When I was in my third year German class in high school, I had to read “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka in German. It was not cheerful stuff. To oversimplify, the novella is about a guy who wakes up to find he has been transformed into a human sized cockroach. Kafka himself was no bundle of joy: riddled with anxiety, guilt and obsessive thoughts of being repulsive to others it is not a reach to suggest that “The Metamorphosis” was somewhat autobiographical.
Biblically, the word metamorphosis is translated as “transfigured.” The last Sunday of the season of Epiphany is Transfiguration Sunday. Epiphany is a little odd in that it can be as short as 4 Sundays and as long as 9 (including Transfiguration Sunday). The word “epiphany” can mean appearance, unveiling or disclosure and the stories of the season are ways in which Jesus’ identity and purpose are revealed.
Not surprisingly, Epiphany begins and ends with a bright light – the first act of creation in the book of Genesis. It also begins with a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Throughout the season the stories shed light on who Jesus is. Some get it, others don’t. Some get it one minute and then seem clueless the next.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus experiences a metamorphosis that is nothing like the one in Kafka’s novella. Matthew writes that Jesus’ face shone like the sun, a reference to Moses’ face when he came down from the mountain. Matthew Mark and Luke write that his clothes became “dazzling white.” But it wasn’t just Jesus. Elijah and Moses, representing the Prophets and the Law appeared with him.
On the other hand, just because something is illuminated does not imply that there is full understanding. The “inner three” of Peter James and John get up close and personal with the Divine but they will fall asleep when Jesus needs them in the Garden and Peter’s denial is an abandonment second only to that of Judas.
They know who Jesus is, but they do not yet understand what Jesus will do.
Here is a quote from “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg:
“The way of Jesus is thus not a set of beliefs about Jesus. That people ever thought it was is strange, when we think about it — as if one entered new life by believing certain things to be true, or as if the only people who can be saved are those who know the word “Jesus”. Thinking that way virtually amounts to salvation by syllables. Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection — the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.”