Having the Vision to See
Based on 2Kings 2:1-12, Mark 9:2-9, 2Cor 4:3-6
There is probably nothing that we use more on a daily basis than our eyes. As a kid I had great eyesight, and it wasn’t until I got into Pharmacy School in my early 20’s that I began to need glasses to see far away. Once I reached my mid-40’s I had to transition to “progressives” in order to be able to see both near and far. In both of my careers, the ability to read and to use a computer have been critical to the performance of my job. I would be distraught if my eyesight got to the point where I was unable to do these basic daily tasks. Yet, there are more than 42 million persons worldwide and more than 1.3 million Americans who are legally blind. In Virginia in 2012, almost 100,000 persons were either legally blind or had significant vision impairment. The incidence of this increases with age, especially after age 75, and is most prominent in white females. As our population grows older, the age-related incidence of vision problems will grow as well.
Blindness has been an issue since ancient times – probably for as long as humans have been sighted. Being blind meant that one was beholden to others in order to live – the blind were forced to beg for alms from those not so afflicted. The Bible has much to say about spiritual blindness as well, and about vision – though usually when the latter word is used it denotes someone receiving a divine message or dream. Our scriptures for today give us some opportunities to think about our spiritual vision – especially how we see others and envision the divine. Let us go to God in prayer and seek God’s vision for us and our world so that we can truly see where we need to go.
Elisha has been tagging along with Elijah for some period of years…six to eight in rabbinical teaching. He has been apprenticed to Elijah and now it is time for Elijah to be taken up to heaven. Elisha loves Elijah very much, and is humbled by the power and divine access that his mentor has with the God of Israel. Elijah tries three times to get Elisha to stay behind so that God can take him to heaven. Each time Elisha replies, “…As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you….” Elijah wants to leave Elisha with a blessing before he is taken away, and he asks his young protégé what it is that he desires. Elisha asks for a double portion of the share of the spirit that Elijah was given. This is the kind of compensation that a first-born son would receive when the father dies and the heirs gather to divide up the elder’s property. Elisha sees himself as Elijah’s first born, and Elijah leaves the fulfillment of the request in God’s capable hands – if Elisha sees Elijah being taken up, then the request will be granted.
The section of Paul’s letter that was read this morning speaks of veils and blindness coming from the “…god of this world…”. (v 3-4) This lesser god is trying to keep the faithful from seeing the “…glory of Christ, who is the image of God… Yet the light of God shines through the worldly darkness into our hearts so that we might become bearers of light for a world that is enthralled in darkness. This is the constant battle between the One true God and the lesser gods we often choose to worship.
Mark’s Gospel reports today about the mountaintop experience of Simon Peter, James and John who are eye witnesses to the divinity of Jesus. Once they get to the top of the high mountain, Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white – whiter than any person could bleach them we are told. Elijah and Moses show up to talk with Jesus and Peter, awestruck and unable to process what is happening, thinks it would be good to just stay up on that mountain forever. After all, it would be great to have one place to go where you could interact with two Patriarchs of the faith and with Jesus. Let’s just build a lodge and invite folks to come, went his logic. But just then a cloud came along and blocked the view and the voice of God said stop staring and listen to “my Beloved Son”. After that Jesus was once again back to normal and alone with His chosen disciples. Jesus instructs the three not to say anything about what they saw.
Our ability to see things then, if these biblical sources are to be believed, is incredibly important. Elisha is able to see Elijah taken up into heaven and thus carries on the latter’s ministry. The Disciples are able to see Jesus transfigured, so they are clued in to his divinity as well as his humanity. Paul’s guidance takes a bit of a different tack in that it isn’t what we see that matters, rather (from verse 10 on), “…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh….” (v 10-11) According to Paul, our very bodies show others the life of Jesus, but only if we can envision how to live that life.
Jesus sees in His disciples the qualities that make them good students of the gospel. They are intelligent, hardworking, trustworthy, loyal, brave – sounds a lot like the Scout motto to me. They each see something in Jesus that is worth following – in fact, they give up everything to follow Him. He teaches them about the kingdom of God and what it looks like to lead a life that is focused on God’s plan rather than their own. A life of service to others, which is dedicated to justice and repentance. Jesus sees in His disciples the ability to model His behavior and in His name cast out demons, heal the sick, cleanse the lepers and revive those who are spiritually dead. The Disciples see themselves in a way that they had never envisioned. Fishermen, tax collector, zealots, they had their lives laid out before them and then this Rabbi came along and changed their worldview.
He was able to do this because He was both wholly human and wholly divine. He had the ability to interact at the most basic level with other humans, and yet He had the vision and insight to know what their deepest sorrows, concerns, and prayers might be. Because of His divinity, he was also able to use the power of the Holy Spirit to bring healing and wholeness to such brokenness. Jesus came to heal, to bring God’s shalom back to God’s people. But not just to the Israelites, rather to all humanity. The God who created all the world and brought it into being with a word, was setting about putting things right again. The kingdom of God is all about returning us to the relationship we had with God before sin and free will got mixed up together and we lost our way. After that, God needed Patriarchs, law-givers, prophets, kings and finally God’s-self in order to right that wrong.
Peter, James and John all saw the linkage between the Law (Moses), the Prophets (Elijah) and the fulfillment of the promise of God on the top of the mountain that day. They didn’t understand that connection, which is why Peter blurted out about a building project there on that remote place. God had other ideas, however, and told them instead that they should listen to this “Beloved Son”. There was a lot more for them to learn before the plan could be brought to fruition. Jesus is the fulfillment of all that had come before. He told them that He came not to replace the law, but to fulfill every line. He had to do certain things because otherwise the prophecies about Him would not be complete. The vision of God over many centuries and through many well- meaning people had to be accomplished in this ritualistic way for it all to work. The Disciples would live to see how their understanding of Jesus’ teachings along with the leading of the Holy Spirit, would continue the spread of the gospel to all corners of the earth.
This is the vision that we must have to see things through our time. The Church is in disarray in many ways, it is broken and losing members. It is irrelevant to many if not most people that come in contact with it. It has lost its way with the stories of its faith – and thus it has lost the ability to envision its place in the world. All is not lost, however, on this Transfiguration Sunday, because God gives us disciples the word we need, “…This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him! Suddenly when they looked around they saw…only Jesus….” That was all they and we ever need to see. Because if we can focus our vison on the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, then we can begin to see the world as He did. We will develop the vision of Jesus and be able to see the hurts and the brokenness, the needs and the desires – we will be able to see through the veil of Paul’s “god of this world” which has blinded us for too long. May God grace us all with such vision. Amen!