Friday, September 23, 2005

the transfiguration

painting by Raphael Sanzio

raphael was a painter of the high italian renaisance born in 1480 and died at the relatively young age of 37. he was asked and commissioned to paint this picture of the transfiguration. his assistance had to finish the painting. what i like about the painting is that it contains both of the stories we find in mark 9:2-37, the story of the transfiguration of jesus and the story of the demon the disciples were unable to cast out.

i just did a talk on this passage recently entitled "the mountain and the valley." after the disciples heard that not only jesus would walk the path of the cross, but they themselves would have to pick up their crosses and follow him, it seemed as if God understood that they needed some encouragement for the journey.

it is interesting to note that marks audience was facing heavy persecution and their own lives were literally at stake. many if they stayed faithful to christ instead of capitulating to the roman empire would have died a martyrs death. so what jesus was telling them at the end of mark 8 was some tough stuff.

so God encourages peter, james and john by bringing them on the moutain. they are amazed as they get to see jesus interacting with elijah and moses, who represent the prophets and the law. and when God speaks once again, as he did at jesus' baptism, the disciples get confirmation from God the Father to listen to jesus and what he is saying.

this was definetly a mountain top experience for peter, james and john. in fact, peter seemed to want to enshrine the moment and so wanted to build a tabernacle for all three of them. but then before you know it, only jesus was left, and jesus was leading them back down the mountain to the valley below, where there were hurting people, unbelieving officials, ineffective institutions and the demons below.

these two stories are wonderfully protrayed in rapheals portrait. and i take away at least two basic things. when jesus invites us to the mountain with others in community, we should go. we need mountain top experiences like retreats and conferences to keep us encouraged to carry our crosses and follow him.

secondly, the test of any vision from God is what we do when we get back down the mountain. the story of the demon possessed boy and the inability of the disciples to cast it out reminds us that it takes both faith and prayer to live life fully in the valley and have the ability to cast out evil. we don't need a moutain of faith to move something as small as a mustard seed. no, all we need is a mustard seed of faith to move mountains.


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