INTERPRETING – Chapter 9

Hello, Peter! I heard a story this week that I have to ask you about. It was that you, James and John actually saw Moses and Elijah! Moses and Elijah! How did that happen and how do you remember that?

That was a powerful time with Jesus! We had gone off with him, just the four of us, for a time away. He took us up a mountain. Our conversation was wonderful as we walked and climbed. But, when we reached the highest area of the mountain, we stopped and Jesus began to pray.

As he prayed there was a change that came upon him. His face glistened brightly. His clothing became as white as white can be. As awesome and unusual as this sounds, there was more. Two men appeared and began to talk with Jesus. It soon became apparent that these two were Moses and Elijah!

Really! Moses and Elijah! Was this some sort of dream? Was it a vision? Was it real? How did you discover that they were Moses and Elijah?

That’s a lot of questions! We had trouble figuring out what was “real,” and what was a “vision.” There are aspects of where those two things are not mutually exclusive. Visions are a real part of the journey of some disciples. I have had important visions that have enabled me to adjust my understanding of my faith in Jesus and my approach to life in him. Sometimes they come as dreams, but sometimes they are part of one’s real experience of that day.

As we watched and listened, the three of them used their names so that we were able to know for sure who they were. It was such a powerful time. We found ourselves feeling a mixture of fear and awe over it. It seemed to me that we should stay there as long as possible. I thought that James, John and I could construct some sort of booths for them in which to stay.

But, it was in that moment that everything began to change. A thick cloud came over that section of the mountain. We could not see our hands if we put them up in front of our faces! And then, a voice came in the cloud that said, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him!” That just knocked us flat. We fell face down on the ground in awe.

But, as we then began to look up, everything had changed. The cloud was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus was now with us looking just as he had always looked.

Wow! What do you make of that experience? Moses and Elijah! The voice of God!

A lot of things actually. I don’t want you to miss what God’s voice called us to do – and that us includes you! Listen to Jesus! Listen!

I don’t think that there can be a more important experience for a disciple of Jesus than to be a listener. Jesus is always communicating. Each experience, each person, and each moment are opportunities to listen. Too many times we get so caught up in talking. We drown out Jesus’ communications. Somebody once said that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason – listen more and talk less!

As I have listened to Jesus, both in his physical presence and in the years since, I have heard perspectives on the law and the prophets that have taken me back to that day on the mountain. We saw the great giver of the law and one of the most powerful prophets in conversation with Jesus. The law and the prophets were important to Jesus, but he handled them differently than the scribes and Pharisees.

How so?

Well, first, in dealing with the law, it was with a real sense of authority. Jesus would say, “You have heard that it was said,” and then he would quote some aspect of the law or well-known interpretation of the law. He would follow this with, “But I say to you” and then he would share his strong interpretive understanding of that aspect of the law.

Some examples that I remember would include: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Another was: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

These statements were said with an authority and conviction that spoke to our hearts. They were in many ways revolutionary, but in other ways, very consistent with the larger flow of the law and with the influential way that Jesus lived out this understanding. His patient, loving nature helped us to see that his perspectives were much truer to the full sense of the law than what our religious leaders were teaching.

Jesus had a sense that the law led us to be more caring. The law called us to be more truly human and not to settle for our broken humanness. The law led us to be about, to care about, to invest ourselves into, the challenges and needs of our neighbors.

This perspective often came out around the sabbath. Jesus kept the sabbath and worshiped on the sabbath. His sabbath faithfulness never kept him from responding to the need of a neighbor. Thus, he was vulnerable to the charge of “working” on the sabbath. He never accepted that interpretation and, in fact, said that we needed to understand “the sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath.” He used the example of an owner of a cow that fell into a ditch on the sabbath. That owner would certainly help the cow to escape the ditch. He saw his healings on the sabbath to be no different than the rescuing of that animal in trouble. The religious leaders never agreed to this interpretation.

So, then was Jesus against the law or, at least, giving new laws?

No, in fact, Jesus made it very clear that he came to fulfill the law. He taught us that his interpretations took the law to its rightful place. He taught that the law was about fully loving the Lord our God and fully loving our neighbors as ourselves. Those key teachings of the law were paramount for his living out God’s expectations for us. Love mattered to Jesus – costly, caring love. One of the last commands that he gave to us as the twelve was that we were to love one another and that this was essential for our witness of him.

Listen. Love. So important. But, what about the prophets?

Again, Jesus also interpreted prophecy in an unusual way. You and I have already discussed how he accepted that he was the Messiah. But, this messianic journey for him worked from very different prophecies than what was common for that day.

He understood himself to be a suffering servant who would teach, heal and confront religious misunderstandings to a point where he would be arrested, suffer punishment and finally be crucified. Yet, his death would result in a resurrection that would affirm all that he was and what he was calling us to be.

His death brought the gift of forgiveness. He was the culmination of the sacrificial system in the temple of so many centuries. He was sacrificed on the cross for our sins. Yet, his resurrection brought the gift of new life unto eternity for all who believed in him. He wanted us to see that a new life, new perspectives, and new priorities would arise in a life lived in Jesus. This perspective arose powerfully from passages in Isaiah, but they were then affirmed and connected to other prophecies throughout the law and the prophets.

So many of those prophecies had a focus for their own time, but yet, also connected to the fulfillment that Jesus brought through his life, death and resurrection. In many significant ways the entire law and the prophets have pointed to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Messiah, God’s son.

This perspective on the prophecies was totally new to us and it took us a long time to see it come together. Much of it did not come together until after the resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the gift of the Holy Spirit pouring into our hearts.

So, now, at this stage of your life, do you feel you understand much of it or nearly all of it?

Actually, my friend, I find that the more that I understand about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the more I discover that I do not yet know. You, through your early journey in the faith, have an angle of understanding that has helped me to go deeper in my walk with the Lord. It is that truth which shows us that none of us stand alone as leaders, or teachers, or even apostles! We need each other – long time believers and new believers. Each disciple has different insights and abilities and, together, we are the body of Christ now on earth.

I understand your point and perspective, but I have hard time believing that I have things to teach you, Peter!

Well, that is in some ways understandable, but our talks together have helped me to grow and learn from this time in prison. They have brought to mind events in my days with Jesus that have fed me and encouraged me through the bleakness of these surroundings. You are, in some ways, like Jesus walking into my prison each week with love and strength. Thank you for coming again this week.

You are welcome, and I plan to come again, but it is time for me to go. Thank you, Peter.

Go in peace and walk in Christ!

SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER FOR PERSONAL CONTEMPLATION OR GROUP STUDY:

  1. How do you listen to Jesus in your daily life? How might Jesus be communicating to you? How might you be missing his messages? What might you do to improve your listening skills?
  2. What differences do you see in how Jesus chose to interpret and understand the law from the other leaders of his time? Can you think of other examples beyond what Peter shared with the new disciple? How does this affect your interpretation of Scripture?
  3. If costly, caring love became a more important ingredient for your interpretation of scripture, what affect would that have on your daily life and walk with God?
  4. Peter felt that costly, caring love was also at the center of Jesus’ interpretation of the prophets and as to how Jesus lived out his calling as the Messiah. What are your thoughts about this perspective?
  5. Peter mentioned the possibility of understanding prophecy with a dual sense of it both commenting on current events of the prophet’s time and future experiences of God’s people. How could that be useful to your reading of the scriptures?
  6. Peter affirmed the new disciple as a resource for his growth in understanding God. Who is God putting in your circle of relationships to strengthen your growth in your walk with God?

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