Do you remember what happened when your parents
first met the person who eventually became your spouse? Probably they
weren't too impressed.
Later, when you were alone with them, you tried
to explain why he or she was so special.
You had experienced things about and with this
individual that most people, at first glance, had never noticed -- things
which not only attracted you, but also could change your life.
Who is He?
The first disciples of the historical Jesus
faced the same problem. Most of the inhabitants of Capernaum saw only the
town carpenter when Jesus crossed their path. They probably talked only
about "carpenter stuff" during their brief encounters.
Yet the small handful who had heard Him talk
about God's kingdom among them and who had seen how He related to the
unfortunates on society's perimeter experienced something in Jesus that
others never noticed. They also knew that what they experienced could change
the way they lived their lives.
Like all of us, they would have put their
experiences of Jesus into categories with which they were familiar. Being
Jews, they reflected on their Scriptures, surfacing ideas that demonstrated
how He was the one who fulfilled many of the dreams they shared -- dreams of
God and the Messiah working among the Chosen People and bringing the kind of
life they longed for.
That's why Moses and Elijah are always included
in Transfiguration narratives (Mark 9:2-10). In Scripture, the Bible is
never called the Bible. It's simply referred to as "the law and the
prophets." In this situation, Moses represents the law; Elijah, the
Their appearance demonstrates that the only way
to understand Jesus is within the context of the Scriptures on which He
based His reform.
His disciples also realized Jesus was going to
usher in a new era, the time all Jews anticipate every fall when they
participate in the Festival of Booths. The celebration shows their belief
that, one day, Yahweh will again come among them, as He had done during
their wandering in the wilderness.
When that happens, they will return to living
in tents (or booths) as their ancestors had for 40 years. That's why Peter
talks about setting up three tents. He's really saying, "What we expect
in the future is actually happening now!"
These initial disciples also found Daniel's
well-known "Son of Man" section helpful in understanding Jesus
(Daniel 7:9-10,13-14). As Alexander DiLella states in "The New Jerome
Biblical Commentary," the original apocalyptic writer of this book
probably intended the one "coming on the clouds of heaven" to be a
symbol of God's kingdom.
"However," he continues,
"because in Daniel the thought of 'kingdom' often shifts imperceptibly
into that of 'king,' the concept of the 'son of man' eventually shifted from
a figure of speech for the theocratic kingdom into a term for the messianic
king himself." That's exactly how the authors of the Christian
Scriptures interpreted the phrase.
On the other hand, we must be careful how we
interpret Peter's comment, "We did not follow cleverly devised
myths" (II Peter 1:16-19).
Though the experience of perceiving Jesus' real
personality wasn't a myth, all Scripture scholars agree that Mark used
mythic concepts in his description of that insight.
One last point: It is a natural human practice
not to recognize someone's qualities until after his or her death. We see
this when the news media highlight one of our military who has been killed
in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Had these individuals not died, probably few
people would have reflected on their personalities deeply enough to surface
the outstanding characteristics that are profiled on television and in
In the same way, had Jesus not died and rose,
few of His contemporaries would have noticed the qualities in Him that our
sacred authors have passed on to us.