Many folks, including Christians, will read the Bible and take passages out of context trying to prove dogmatic matters, moral points, etc. Sacred Scripture requires a close reading, or analysis of the text, to avoid taking passages of the context of the text both a whole and within the contexts that it’s found in the biblical text. St. John Chrysostom reminds biblical readers that not a single word is wasted in the Bible. Every book in the Bible has a genre: Narrative (Gospels), Hymn (Psalms), and letters (Pauline Epistles) to name a few. Furthermore, every genre has sub-genres found within the text. In the case of the Gospels, there are miracle stories, parables, moral teachings, theophanies (encounters with God), and more.
Why am I explaining all of this? I believe it’s important when focusing on today’s gospel found in the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel today is the good news of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ—and what that event reveals to us! There have been many articles and sermons written on Moses, Elijah, and Jesus representing the fulfillment of both the law or prophets. Naturally, many pastors will point to Peter’s reaction, who seeing Jesus transfigured with Moses and Elijah wanting to build three tents, so that they can stay on the mountain with the glory of God without trial. Jesus reminds us that God desires mission. (Both are great insights to this gospel passage)
The heart of the text though is the sub-genre (theme) of the text which is theophany, or a manifestation of God—think Moses and the burning bush. Some biblical scholars object to the idea of Mark portraying Jesus as God in his gospel. It’s certainly true that Mark doesn’t do so formally, or explicitly, by coming out and writing the words, “Jesus is God.” However, Mark’s text does materially, or implicitly, declare Jesus to be God by the theophany of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. (other places in the text too)
I encourage readers to take out their Bibles and turn to the Gospel of Mark 9:2-10. Unfortunately, the lectionary omits a key movement in the text of the narrative that reveals so much about what the theophany event is trying to tell readers about the identity of who Mark is claiming Jesus to be in his Gospel. In the beginning of the second verse, the reader will read, “after six days…” which is not included in the lectionary text. It is my hope that the editor of the lectionary thought the detail unimportant, but serious scripture readers need to take note here. I’d ask readers to now recall Chrysostom’s assertion that every single word is important in Sacred Scripture.
The reader should begin to investigate questions that arise from this particular phrase, “after six days…” Why would Mark include this into the narrative? Mark’s usually form of transition is something similar to “And then…” So, is there a particular reason for the phrase in the movement within the gospel text? Pope Benedict XVI explains in his first volume of his book series Jesus of Nazareth the reference to six days prior to the Transfiguration of Jesus is the confession of St. Peter to the question posed by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Messiah.” (8:27) Benedict explains that there is a Jewish cultural context to understand within the frameworks of the confession of St. Peter, The Transfiguration, and the identity of who is Jesus.
There are two Jewish feasts that occur 6 days a part from each other with 5 days between them: Yom Kippur and the Feast of Tabernacles, or booths. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement is the single day of the year where the Jewish High Priest entered the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple and spoke the name of God revealed to Moses. The second feast of Tabernacles, or booths recalls a certain translation of the text of the Transfiguration. In the New American Bible, the translation of when Peter tells Jesus that the disciples will build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus can also be rendered “booths.” (9:5) The text potentially putting the setting of the confession of St. Peter and the Transfiguration within the confines of these two Jewish feasts reveals the divinity of Jesus Christ.
And so, we must ask ourselves, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” If the answer is “My Lord and My God,” then we must devote our entire lives to Jesus Christ. When Jesus returns in the second coming as Judge, we cannot simply say “I went to church every Sunday, when it was convenient and I was obligated to attend,” or “I went to a few prayer groups,” or “I was a good person.” It will not suffice. Jesus Christ demands total conversion of faith in Him working through love: (1A) Faith in Jesus (1B) Follow the Commands of Jesus. Preach the Kerygma and bring the love of Christ to others. The focus on one or the other produces a lukewarmness, which at the Judgment, Jesus will spew us out.