March 3, 2019 Transfigured to be a Humble Leader
Scripture Passage: Luke 9:28-36
Transfigured to be a Humble Leader
Good morning! On this first Sunday of March, we celebrate Transfiguration of our Lord and the Gifts of Women. Actually, these two themes go hand in hand. As we see throughout the gospels, there is a gap of misunderstanding between the disciples and Jesus, as in the transfiguration event. Peter, James and John are sure that the appearance of Moses and Elijah in this dramatic event must be about the power and glory of a forceful leader. That is why the impulsive Peter suggests the building of 3 tents to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter’s interpretation of this mystical event, is that Jesus is supposed to be a mighty military or political leader. However, here’s where the gap of misunderstanding is. The Transfiguration was not intended by God to show that Jesus is a powerful, forceful leader. As one commentator noted, the Renaissance painter, Raphael’s painting, The Transfiguration, which is being passed around, reflects this event is about a ‘vision of glory’ of a humble, healing leader. The glory and light of the transfigured Jesus is to bring healing to people’s bodies, spirits and souls. Since we celebrate the Gifts of Women, today, I want to focus on how the transfigured Jesus brings healing to women. Down through the ages, women have not been given the proper credit for the work they have accomplished, and they have not been given access to so many opportunities.
So, today we set aside a day to acknowledge this injustice and to bring some of Jesus’ healing and light to the unsung gifts of women. The writing of the entire Old Testament and New Testament is attributed to men. However, women have been important prophets, missionaries and church planters throughout history. In fact, there is evidence that the last chapter of Romans, Romans 16, may have been authored by a woman. Sadly, the authorship was attributed to a man and we don’t know this woman’s name. I think it’s exciting though, to think that some part of the scriptures was perhaps written by a woman. I also find it exciting that today, we have many female biblical scholars, theologians, and Greek and Hebrew experts, who help us unlock the meaning behind the original texts! Dr. Polly Coote, my Greek professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary, is one such amazing woman. Polly’s legal name is Mary Coote. Polly was not only one of the most outstanding professors of Greek, but she became a spiritual mother to me. One thing about Polly, which deeply impressed me, was her genius ability to learn languages. She graduated from Harvard as a Linguist, and she knows 7 languages, including modern and biblical Greek. What is more impressive about Polly, is that she is extremely humble about her expertise in all these languages. Polly wanted to make learning biblical Greek as fun and accessible as possible, since most people find Greek a hard language to learn. Polly also brought in one of her many stuffed frogs to encourage us, as we plodded through all the Greek grammar and reading. That was a personal touch, which I don’t think a male Greek professor would have added! Polly has also been a writer or editor for her husband, Robert B. Coote, who has written many books on the Old Testament. So, while the voices of the past told us that women cannot become linguists, scholars, or authors, the voice of the present through Polly tells us that, yes women can be linguists, scholars and authors! I believe that one of the purposes of the transfigured Jesus was to help bring this voice about women’s gifts to the world.
As Raphael’s painting reflects, one of the purposes of the transfigured Jesus, is to bring healing to those who are most vulnerable. Women, of course, have been a part of those in the most vulnerable group, so Jesus has brought healing and liberation to women, by making their voices and gifts known to a world, which mostly has not recognized them. The transfigured Jesus gave Polly the gift of language so that she could help many future pastors and professors unlock the meaning behind the transfiguration event and the New Testament scriptures. So, the scene at the bottom of the mountain is of a little boy, standing with outstretched arms, who is demon-possessed and having terrible seizures. The scene is chaotic, because the boy’s father has brought him in desperation to Jesus’ disciples for healing, but they fail to heal him. The disciples are frustrated. We can also see 2 men in the painting pointing their hands at the transfigured Jesus. I think these men pointed to the dazzling white Jesus, because they believed that he was the one, who could actually heal this boy. These men believed that the transfigured Jesus did not come to be a forceful military or political leader, but actually, to be a humble, compassionate healer of people’s bodies, spirits and souls. They believed that the Jesus, who was coming down the mountain in a halo of dazzling light, would heal this boy of the demon and seizures. I believe that this same beaming Jesus is the one, who came to liberate and heal women from all the oppressive forces of our world cultures. We can see shining evidence of this through Polly.
Once Polly helped us to unlock the meaning behind the Greek words in the New Testament, it was often like reading the passages for the first time, because the Greek meanings are so different from the English ones. One example is today’s transfiguration event. Polly explained that the word “dazzling” in Greek is about a ‘bleached white’, which is beyond any white color, we could imagine, it is so white. Just reading the English, we have no idea that the Greek author intended for us to think of the bleaching process of fabrics! Because of Polly and understanding the Greek, reading the New Testament became exciting and much more meaningful. Today, whenever I do the exegesis of a passage before writing my sermon, I always reflect closely on the special Greek words, and interpret the passage as close to the meaning in the original Greek as possible. The translation of the Greek could be completely different from the English translation. Whenever I look at the Greek, I give God thanks for Polly, and that she taught us so well to understand Greek and unlock the meaning of the scriptures, as the authors and Spirit intended. So, the transfigured Jesus came to bring voice and healing to Polly, myself and all women, as well as to all people, men, women and children. I loved what a commentator said about how the cloud of Jesus’ glory in the transfiguration “envelopes weary disciples”! As we can see in Polly, here shines a healing leader, who has the power, to overcome even serious illness and death, and generations of oppression toward women and other disadvantaged groups!
So, on this Transfiguration of the Lord and Gifts of Women Sunday, may we remember that ‘vision of glory’ of the beaming, bleached-white Jesus and Polly Coote’s story, and feel encouraged that he came to bring women, and all of us, healing and liberation, in our bodies, spirits and souls. Jesus can even overcome death and oppression. Amen.