It's all downhill from here
It’s all downhill from here.
Some years ago I had a dream about this episode, which is odd as I didn’t used to read the Bible regularly. I dreamt that I met Jesus on his way down the mountain from the Transfiguration. I don’t know why that was the time and place, but in my dream it just was. I was sad and angry that Jesus was going to his death in Jerusalem, and I wanted to protect him. I called out to him, and gaining his attention I pleaded with him, warning him of the danger. He put his arms around me and we were one in that moment. In my sleep I cried tears of sadness and love.
I am still not sure what it means but I am always reminded of the dream when I read about the Transfiguration and the immediate aftermath.
We have just witnessed something a bit special. It is special enough to walk on water, stop a storm by telling it to stop, and raise the dead. But this is something else. We have just seen something very old testamental. Two greats on a mountain top with a cloud overshadowing etc etc. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, Jesus is the new temple, the place where God resides, where the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth meet.
Meanwhile on the plains, we have failure, illness, panic, a tense situation that could become violent at the drop of a hat. Amidst all this, the disciples are shown as still having so much to learn. There is no quick learning in being a disciple of Jesus. It takes a lifetime. And is full of failure.
V 40, the Father states that the disciples could not help the boy. Why not, they had just come back not long ago with tales of gung ho about how they had healed and exorcised. Had pride got in the way, had they stopped relying on God?
Jesus healed the boy, Luke excludes some material used in Mark’s Gospel, but his gentleness for the family is shown in v42 “and he gave him back to his father”. Again the result of a miracle is mending that which was broken. All the crowd, like the crowd at Nain, were praising God. They still didn’t see Jesus as being God incarnate. We shouldn’t be too hard on them, it hadn’t happened before, and there was no reason for them to suspect this, it is easy for us to rewind and fast forward when reading about Jesus, those with him had only the present and the past to play with. God was doing something new in Jesus, something that was surprising everyone.
Jesus again tells his disciples that he is going to be a different sort of Messiah, but they can’t see it, they as still thinking that he is going to be an avenging Lord. They wanted to know who among them was the greatest. Was this because they had seen three go up the mountain. Where they getting a bit tired of being a second string group? These are questions, rhetorical in type that aren’t meant to have an immediate answer, rather to encourage thought and reflection.
Jesus in response does a very Jewish thing. He acts as a Rabbi, sitting down with his disciples to teach them. He takes a child. The word child in Aramaic was the same as the word for Servant. The disciples then need to become like servants. They are being childish but they need to become like children, and in the 1st century that meant to become like a servant. Again Jesus talks about the upside down topsy turvy world of the Kingdom of God that his followers need to live out. We still don’t get this, Jesus calls for no status, no titles no thrones or seats of honour. This group today is not my group, it is not led by me, rather we are a group of disciples, followers of Jesus who meet to find out more about him, and how better to follow him.
John speaks up about someone else who has been casting out demons; it seems without the proper authority or written forms. He hadn’t attended the meetings, and teaching sessions. Jesus reply is inclusive not exclusive. If this person is doing work for them, then he is on the right side.
And still they don’t get it. Jesus has set his sights on Jerusalem; he knows he has to go there. It is the centre of Judaism and the temple movement, so he has to . The Samaritans bar him. Before in his ministry they had welcomed him. Why not now. Probably because of the focus on Jerusalem, while the Samaritans had an issue with Jesus, he did not with them. He rebuked James and John who called for fire to be called down on the Samaritans, and he later used the Samaritans as an example of love and compassion at the expense of the temple leadership.
Finally, we have a scene where a number of people seemingly call to follow Jesus, but he seems to be awkward almost and off putting. Let the dead bury their dead was outrageous for a 1st Century Jew, but burial of course wasn’t like it is today. There were two stages, the original internment and subsequently the placement of bones into an ossiary, this could take years, so the request isn’t so urgent as it seems to be, the request is saying let me do things I need to do first and then I might get round to it. Judgement is coming and Jesus’ time is now short. There is an urgency, we are going down into Jeruslalem, down into something dark and dangerous, we are heading into Hell. People are in for a rocky ride from here on in, so their full attention is going to be needed.