There’s something kind of violent about transforming someone
by Rev. Mike Baughman
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:2-9
For Sunday, February, 19th: Year B—Transfiguration Sunday
Transfiguration—apart from Harry Potter conversations, I never use this word. I can’t put it in a sentence with anything other than Jesus’ Clorox bleach commercial. Online dictionaries are inconsistent and mostly define the word with itself.
Transfiguration…I don’t know that word.
With all that confusion, I did what anybody with one semester of pass/fail biblical Greek under his belt would do—I got out my Greek dictionary and Greek Bible. I remember roughly five Greek words so I was incredibly shocked that I didn’t need the dictionary! I didn’t even have to struggle to figure out which Greek word corresponded to the English text.
Metamorpho…I know that word!
I know the word metamorpho, but not because I went to seminary. I know it because I took 7th grade science (thank you, Mr. Rahter!). When I wasn’t lighting the gas jets with those cool flint things, I picked up on the fact that caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies, maggots into flies and tadpoles to toads.
Harry Potter wasn’t the only one who learned how to change one thing into another at school. I did too, but it took me a lot longer than him. What I learned in 7th grade science sounds similar to what Harry learned in Transfiguration. Professor McGonagall can turn a rat into a tea cup and a hat into flowers. But is that what happened to Jesus?
This is where Things get Squirrely
For most, the notion of Jesus changing is pretty uncomfortable. Even if you’re a process theologian, the notion that Jesus transforms from one thing into another raises all sorts of theological questions.
If transfiguration means to transform or change, then what was Jesus before? What was Jesus after Mark 9? If we go down that rabbit trail, we’re about two questions away from poking Cyril of Alexandria and all of his Nicean homeboys in the eye with our middle fingers.
But what if J.K. Rowling is Wrong?
(Yes, it’s hard for me to put those words together.)
It seems, that metamorphosed things turn from one thing to another. Harry Potter’s tea cup looks nothing like the rat that it once was, just as a butterfly looks nothing like the caterpillar it once was.
Perhaps they’re more alike than we think. Sure, they look radically different but the frog and the tadpole share the same DNA, the same memories and the same story. It’s still the same creature. The inside is still the same, but the full purpose of the tadpole has been revealed in the frog.
What if transfiguration is the revelation of the full glory of God that is within and not the essential shift from one thing to another?
Transforming or Transfiguring Lives?
We talk a lot about transforming lives and not very much about transfiguring them. This may just be semantics, but when churches talk about transforming lives, they generally want to get rid of something or everything that a person was and have them take on a completely new life! The goal is to change and inject some Jesus into them.
We treat new Christians, teenagers and ordination candidates (among others) like cancer patients who need to have unhealthy tumors removed and medicine injected. What if we sought to transfigure them instead? What if we were confident enough to assume that the full glory of God was already buried inside everyone? What if we believed that it isn’t our job to inject Jesus into them, but to draw Jesus out of them?
The Hardest Question
I found another place that metamorpho shows up in the Bible. Paul uses it in Romans 12:2—not to refer to Jesus, but to us. “Be metamorphosed by the renewing of your mind.” What if we actually believed that the full glory of God could shine through us? What if we believed that we can be transfigured like Jesus?
The Rev. Mike Baughman is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the co-author of one book and has contributed to a long list of books, curricula, resources and research. He also trains and consults with churches non-profits and small businesses on social media and how it can be used to help their work and ministry. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife (also a pastor) and four kids. You can learn more about him at www.mikebaughman.com , follow him on twitter @ireverant and read his blog, ireverant.wordpress.com