2 Kings 2:1-14
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
The Disciples have had a hard time listening to Jesus throughout the time they have been together. Jesus has spoken about his death. They deny it. He has spoken about inclusion. They still try to send the children away. He has spoken about love and giving and servant-hood, and they still don’t let him wash their feet, and they still want Jesus to be honored, revered in a way that he doesn’t seek or think is appropriate to who he really is. He has called them to join him as healers, and they are unable to do it. He has spoken about faith and they still stumble on the water. He has spoken about many things and the disciples remain confused, unclear, clue-less even at times. This is proven once again by their speech on the mountain. They don’t get it. They want to stay on the mountain. They want to build shrines and bask in the glory. They want to continue the mountain top experience, rather than carrying it down with them to the people, as a source of strength to do their ministry, to do their service, to live the lives Christ calls them to lead. They don’t get it.
In light of that we have God’s words “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” God has three things to say. This is my son. I love him. And listen to him.
When you listen to Jesus, what do you hear? I would like to invite you to take a moment and really think about that. When you listen to the Jesus you read about in scripture, in our conversations, in bible studies, in life, what do you hear?
Do you always like what you hear? Or are there times when the words are hard to hear, not what we want, but still are what we hear?
When I was in Ohio, I was part of a weekly lectionary group in which we read the lectionary assigned scripture passages for the following week together. We often read from different translations of the Bible. And because of that, we have found at times that the different translations are translated differently For example, Mark 1:40-41. In the NRSV, this passage is translated, “A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” However, the passage that in the NRSV is translated, “moved with pity” is translated in the NIV (which you have in front of you) as “Jesus was indignant” and in the CEB (the one that I usually use) as “incensed”. The word they are translating is actually “anger” so “Moved with anger” might be a better translation in both. Either way, there is a huge difference between “compassion” and “anger”. And the reason for these different translations is that when we look at the old manuscripts of these texts, they don’t always agree with one another. There are many old manuscripts and scrolls of these Biblical passages, not one. And they don’t agree with each other. It is not always clear which one was written earlier, which one was the “original” or which one is closest to what Jesus actually said. So the NIV and CEB chose a different original manuscript for this phrase than the translators of the NRSV. Different translators have to pick which text they believe to make the most sense, to be the most accurate, to be the most original. And different translators often pick different original texts from which to translate specific passages. As we sat, in my lectionary group, with the difference between Jesus being incensed and Jesus having compassion, one of our pastor friends made the comment that because translators are also interpreters at some level, they want the passage to make sense and to match with their own theology. Therefore, the translation that is least comfortable is actually often the one that is the most accurate. The ones that are more comfortable are often made that way by the translators, by the interpreters. The words that they find which are uncomfortable, they try to ease, to smooth down, to make more palatable. So they pick the texts that make most sense to them and translate them according to those texts. They don’t always pick the ones that really appear to be the oldest, or the most original, or the closest to what Jesus probably really did or said.
This is a very human thing to do and we do it as well. We try to block out things that make us uneasy, things that don’t make sense to us. We see this with our news, and our reaction to news, actually. I recently read about several psychological studies which show, consistently, that in light of evidence that disproves people’s biases, people are more likely to entrench in their own viewpoints rather than change their opinions. Even when hard, cold facts that cannot be argued are presented, if what is offered is different from what the receiver believes, most people will discount the new information rather than be willing to change their minds or be confronted by a truth other than what they already know to be true. This applies to scripture as well.
The truth is, if nothing in the Bible has ever disturbed us, then we haven’t read it closely enough. Or rather, we haven’t listened well enough. If nothing in Jesus’ words has ever disturbed us, then we haven’t been paying attention. Because Jesus said disturbing things. Jesus challenged us. He challenged us with passages such as Matthew 25: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (for) I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’”
We are challenged with words such as, “This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven,” which seems to imply that he doesn’t want specific people to turn their lives around and be forgiven. We are challenged with words such as “I came not to bring peace but a sword,” and “Anyone who does not hate their mother and father, brother and sister, wife and children- yes, and even his own life - cannot be my disciple.” We are challenged by the many parables which are hard to understand such as the story of the wheat and tares. We might be challenged by Jesus’ own breaking of the biblical rules such as the Sabbath laws, by curing and picking grain on the Sabbath. We might be challenged by Jesus telling us we are to do what he did and to follow in his footsteps. These should make us uncomfortable. And when they don’t, it could be because we disagree and are okay with that. It could be because we have taken the time to really study the passages and have come to an understanding we can live with. But I think often it is, if we are honest, because we are not really listening.
There was a wonderful article in Sojourner’s Magazine a few years ago entitled, “Five Ways I’m the Worst at Following Jesus” by Christian Piatt. He said, “My biggest concern at the moment is that though a lot of us claim to “be Christians,” or even to follow Jesus, a lot of us don’t spend much intentional time trying to figure out what that means and what it looks like in daily life. We try not to be too (mean) to other people, try not to kill, steal, adulterate… or worship graven images. We try to love, and to accept love — though we still hurt each other. A lot. The world is messed up and so far from realizing the fully kingdom-inspired image of wholeness and reconciliation to which God invites us. And at least in my theological world, that’s on us, not God. I believe, with all of my being, that the audacious vision of God’s kingdom, here and now, isn’t something we sit around and pray for God to make real for us. Like Jesus said, we can (and should) collectively do greater things than even he did. …So here I am, not so much trying to be Jesus, but trying to at least follow his life, teaching, and example better. And in taking my own personal inventory, I can see that I (am pretty bad at it). That doesn’t mean I’m giving up, but it’s clear I have plenty of work to do.”
Are we aware of the things we do that are failing to follow Jesus? And again, if we aren’t aware, it means we have not been listening.
But the good news in all of this is that despite our failure to listen, Jesus stays in relationship with us. God stays with us no matter how we fail to hear. Jesus brought Peter, James and John up to the mountain top and even though they didn’t get it, he let them see the transformation, hearing God’s voice directly and God’s instructions in a clear voice. Jesus explains his parables to them, even through his frustration with their lack of understanding. He repeats his message, repeats his descriptions of what is to come, repeats what they need to hear, despite their lack of deep listening. He loves them and models for them what that love looks like, despite their reluctance to embrace it, to follow him completely, to walk the path he walked in the way he walked it. And he does the same for us.
Still, God calls down, “This is my son whom I love. Listen to him.” Bonhoeffer said, "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them." —(Life Together).
Peter, James and John wanted to stay on the mountain. They had been given a new glimpse of who Jesus was, one that filled them with joy, with hope, with life. They had seen the transfiguration, they had a real and deep glimpse of who Jesus really was. And it filled them with a joy that they did not want to give up. That is understandable. That is absolutely understandable. To be given that mountain top experience of seeing God and seeing Jesus as God’s son – what an incredible gift. To see Moses and Elijah next to him. To experience these people of God in this way. It was an amazing gift. It was a gift that was not withheld even though they failed to listen and understand. It was still given. And the opportunity to listen to Jesus was also given again, with the instructions, direct from God, to listen. We, too, make mistakes. But we, too, are not deprived of the good gifts of God. And we, too, no matter what we do or fail to do, are invited every time we hear Jesus’ words to “Listen to him.” Amen.