Sometimes the strangest thoughts bubble up when I’m reading the Scriptures for the day. This year we’re reading Mark and today’s section is the familiar story of the Transfiguration (9:2-10). None of the gospels provides all the details for any story but Mark is especially brief – the first written and shortest gospel. In some cases it’s like reading shorthand. Over the years I’ve become brave enough to try filling in some of the blanks in the stories. I doubt it can hurt; it’s not dogmatic teaching but just conjecture for my own deeper understanding. I think of it as a kind of similar activity to that of movie makers who try to give us pictures to accompany the most visual texts – not always successfully, I might add.
Just now as I was reading about the transformation of Jesus into a being of light in the presence of his associates, Peter, James and John, it was the appearance of Elijah and Moses conversing with Jesus that led to my musing. In seeing that vision, Peter blurts out to Jesus the famous lines, ” Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!” My immediate – unbidden – reaction was: How did he know who they were? It’s doubtful there were photos in their homes…Then I laughed at myself and went back to imaging the event.
A couple of reflections remain from that experience.
- Regardless of the vast resources of biblical scholarship available to us today, there are still things we may never be sure of but these are generally questions like mine today – details rather than central points of the stories.
- The importance of what we read is the truth rather than the facts that we find there. Sometimes the two coincide but not always. We need to be aware of literary forms and the purposes of their use. (Consider the stories of Adam and Eve or Jonah, for example.)
- Reading the Bible is an exercise of trust in divine inspiration, not only as it was present to those who first told of God’s actions but also those who heard, those who sat in community and “edited” by common consent and then those who left us the texts that have been passed down.
- We ourselves have the responsibility of faith that God is still speaking and that we have a part to play in our own communities by delving deeper into the words we read, the images that arise in us during the sacred times of listening together and the inspiration of the Spirit among us that can lead us to deeper truth, deeper action and deeper love in community.