Year A – Transfiguration

Exodus 24: 12-18

1. Discussion

Transfiguration Sunday concludes the season of Epiphany and prefigures the season of Lent. It is a “liminal” day, neither completely one thing nor completely the other. As such, it embodies one of those days in which God, as it were, draws close to the world, in which the heavenly and earthly realms intersect. Transfiguration Sunday is a day in which we are called to renew our openness to the presence and operation of God in the world – and to the transformative ministry to which the Christian community is called.

The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures that is normally paired with the Gospel reading on Transfiguration concerns Moses coming down from the mountain after he has received the Law from God – this is when Moses’ own appearance has been “transfigured”, and he has to wear a veil over his face in order to not frighten the people. The parallels with Jesus’ own transfiguration and the fear it inspires in the disciples are obvious.

However, today’s reading in Year A is taken from before Moses ascends Mount Sinai in order to receive the Law. Moses is summoned by God to ascend the mountain, and he does so, taking Joshua with him. However, he also makes arrangements for his departure and absence, leaving Aaron and Hur with the people so that they might not be bereft of leadership.

After Moses and Joshua ascend the mountain, a cloud covers it; within this cloud, the “glory” of the LORD dwells. This image of the cloud covering the mountain is part of the Hebrew tradition that speaks to the “hiddenness” of God. Just as God’s image cannot be reproduced in idols, so God cannot be encountered directly. This “distance” speaks to the qualitative difference between God and humanity – God, afterall, is God, and cannot be experienced unmediated by human beings. To encounter God directly is to be destroyed, precisely because the differences between humanity and God are such that the unmediated presence of God is destructive to human beings; they cannot, at the one and same time, occupy the same space.

This tradition of “hiddenness” also speaks to another strand within the Hebrew experience of God: the “darkness” of God. The presence of God in human life is not, in this understanding, an unalloyed good. The encounter between God and humanity is sometimes, from the human point of view, a bruising experience. Even when God takes care to “hide” from human perception, to encounter God in even a mediated condition is to be radically transformed; and sometimes that transformation is painful. This is precisely what happens to Moses: his “transfiguration” requires him to hide from the people ever afterwards. We cannot encounter God and not be altered; and sometimes that shift in perception, that marking out of new ways of life and being, involves a painful separation or departure from what went on before.

The cloud covering the mountain for six days and nights recalls the period of creation articulated in Genesis 1. This could perhaps be seen as God “creating” the Law; or, more correctly, the Law being built into – fundamental, as it were – to creation itself. That Moses is called into God’s presence on the seventh day – the day of Sabbath – may again be interpreted as God having finished the work of “creating” the Law; but again, it may be reflective of the fundamental nature of the Law to creation as covenant, of mandating the cyclical nature of life and the necessity for existence to have patterning and shape that reflects relational co-existence.

The description of the “glory of the LORD” as a “devouring fire” recalls Moses’ first encounter with God as mediated by the appearance of the “burning bush”. It also reflects the traditions of the “hiddenness” and “darkness” of God: though the mountain top is a place where the realms of heaven and earth come into contact, still the full appearance of God is not possible in order to shield creation from its destructive effect. That Moses then goes into the cloud and resides on the mountain forty days and nights is again reflective of periods of waiting and journeying: the forty years of the Hebrew people’s wandering in the desert, for example. This is “sacred time”, in which the presence of God in the world is especially remarkable, working to make things new and set the relationship between God and humankind on a new footing.

2. Reflection

There is a growing dis-ease within society about the effect which modernity’s construction of work and economy is having on social relations, on the political system, and on the wider ecology. Many fear that growing economic inequality will destabilise social order, or enable the wealthy and powerful to manipulate democratic processes for their own ends. Others fear that the destructive effect of modern industrialisation and the wastefulness of our consumption culture will critically undermine the very environment upon which humans depend for their survival. Others are concerned that the ever-increasing influence of corporate prerogatives over human life means that waged labour is becoming an idolatrous oppressor determining what constitutes human validity and a “good” life.

Today’s reading from Exodus reminds us that we are summoned into life together by the God who, through creation, seeks relationship with us. The Law given to Moses is part of God’s gift of covenant; it sets out, not to proscribe or limit human life, but to inform us of the elements of co-existence that reinforce human dignity, and those which alienate us from God and from one another. The Law is less a statute book of rules than it is a framework for fruitful life. This fruitfulness is the gift of God, who desires that our existence mirrors the covenantal relationship God seeks with humankind.

The Hebrew traditions of the “hiddenness” and “darkness” of God remind us of the dangers of humans transgressing into those realms within which we do not belong. That is to say, when we attempt to elevate certain aspects of human-constructed life – economic systems of organisation, for example – to the status of immutable “laws” we are engaged in an idolatry that equates human “rationality” with divine wisdom. We cannot become gods – nor can any of our constructs assume the status of “divine law” – any more than we can encounter God unmediated; as soon as we attempt to do so, we encounter destructive consequences. The poverty, the exploitation, the corruption, the ecological damage that are products of modernity’s construction of work and economy are ample evidence of this reality. By having turned waged labour into an idol that mandates what human legitimacy looks like, and by having made the economic notions of “productivity” and “efficiency” the foundations of human “happiness”, we have enslaved ourselves to the destructive consequences of our own hubris.

But today’s reading also reminds us that the world is filled with the presence of God that marks out a “sacred time” within the world, calling us into the sorts of relations that uphold human dignity and orient life toward the relational co-existence established by covenant. This is a covenant that is foundational to existence itself; it is not a matter of “thou shalt nots”, but of our inter-dependent connectivity. When we replace this inter-connectivity with an obsession with our own idolatrous hubris, we turn away from the covenantal order that marks out the flourishing and dignity of human life – we are not attentive to the presence of God and the “sacred time” that is the unfolding of creation itself.

The destructive effects which we can observe from our construction of work and economy, and the concerns to which they give rise in the minds of many, are themselves the voice of God’s prophetic judgement, seeking our movement back into an orientation toward God, toward covenant, toward relational co-existence. Today’s reading reminds us that we are called into relationship with God in order that we might be relationally present to one another; when we forget that calling, we become destructive instead of fruitful. The longed-for transformation of our world cannot occur until we are mindful of, and open to, the presence of God and the redeeming relational life into which we are both gifted and called.  

Psalm 2

1. Discussion

Psalm 2 is a psalm of warning and lament, expressed in the political language of the ancient world and thus expressing concepts of power relations that do not sit comfortably with modern notions of democracy and individual liberty. This aside, it is a powerful evocation of both the sovereignty of God and of the calamity that befalls humans when they try to elevate human concepts and projects to the realm of divine authority. It is a compelling call for the need for humility and an understanding of the provisional nature of all things human.

The Psalm begins with a lament about the conspiracy of earthly powers, how they seek to overthrow the sovereignty of God and replace it with their own power. In one respect, this could be viewed as emblematic of the problematic relationship between religion and state power: the kings of the earth, having previously used religion to describe their own power as having “come from” God (or the gods) now seek to assume godly power themselves and do away with the rationalising expedient of religion. However, it also describes the manner in which human ambition and hubris falls into idolatry: we assume that human structures and projects are sufficient ground on which to stand, and seek to elevate them to the status of “divine laws” that cannot be questioned or challenged.

Verse 1 speaks of the futility and folly of this hubris; and this is reinforced in verses 4 and 5. The notion of God laughing in disdain at the conspiracy being launched by the earthly powers speaks to the distance between the sovereignty of God and the strictly limited power of the kings. God’s response is to inform the conspirators that God has already anointed a “king” – a king who is located on God’s holy mountain, Zion. This kind – and this location – are symbolic of God’s presence in, and sovereignty over, the affairs of the world and over the whole of creation.

Verses 7 to 9 shift the emphasis – the Psalmist is revealed as the prophet to whom is given the message about God’s “king” on earth. Not the powers that claim lineage and authority from God, nor those which attempt to usurp God’s power to rule; but the One who is God’s “begotten son”, and into whose hands all authority has been placed. This is not the Psalmist claiming to be the Messiah; but, as it were, using the language of divine proclamation to reveal God’s purpose for creation. The world and everything in it will be brought into alignment with God’s covenant through the agency of One who will be the nexus between heaven and earth. Obviously, from the standpoint of Christian theology, this language of a “begotten son” has particular meaning for how Christians understand the life and ministry of Christ; but we should be careful to not read this understanding back into the text. This Psalm is not a “prediction” about Jesus: rather, it is a statement about God’s redeeming and reconciling purpose. Christians understand that purpose to be revealed and fulfilled in the person of Jesus; but this is an after the fact revelation and should not be projected onto the text itself.

The violence of verse 9, and the intimidatory language of verses 10 and 11, will not sit comfortably with many people today – indeed, many will see it is illustrative of religion’s power to abuse and cause harm. But clothed in the political language of the day, in which absolute rulers actually wielded the power of life and death over their subjects, this language speaks of the reversal that will be the product of idolatry: the schemers will find their carefully laid plans undone, and they will suffer the calamity that comes from arrogantly assuming a power to which they are not entitled. In other words, their actions will have consequences. But disturbing as the language in which this message is couched may be for modern audiences, it nonetheless contains a message of hope: anger is not God’s default setting, and those who are humble enough to recognise their own contingency and have trust in God – which is not the same as subservience – will come to the fruitfulness which relationship with God engenders.

Psalm 2 is a prophetic text that warns against the consequences of human arrogance and which asserts the sovereignty of God over the conceited assumptions of hubris and complacency. It also offers a word of comfort: humility before God is not humiliation but the pathway to a truly human and fulfilled life.

2. Reflection

The last few hundred years of human history have characterised what is often referred to as the “Enlightenment (or post-Enlightenment) Project”. This refers to the so-called Renaissance and subsequent Enlightenment at the end of the medieval period, when western European culture emerged from the “darkness” of the Middle Ages into the time of modern science, philosophy, and rational culture. Of course, the extent to which this is actually true is bitterly contested by historians and philosophers of science; but the general framework of the “Enlightenment narrative” is that with the “discovery” of modern science (especially in relation to the natural and medical sciences) humanity has left behind its dependence upon religion and superstition (often viewed as one and the same) and has been able to ascertain the “truth” about itself and its place in the universe.

There have been many consequences of this shift in human perception. One has been the “elevation” of humanity to a position, not merely at the top of the natural world, but to a place above the wider ecology itself. Humans no longer see themselves as interacting with, and interdependent upon, the natural world; rather, we see ourselves as its “overlords”, and the environment as existing solely for us to plunder without limit

Another consequence has been the elevation of “rational” systems of social, political, and economic organisation to a position from which they have become the determining factors of what constitutes human validity and legitimacy. The pervasiveness of these “rational” systems and their underlying assumptions has become such that “normality” is often depicted as synonymous with their dictates; anyone who questions or challenges them is dismissed as “utopian” or “impractical” or even regarded as a “threat to society”.

A third consequence has been the emergence of an industrial culture which, while it has brought untold benefits to humanity, has also caused enormous harm: mass environmental degradation; exploitation and oppression, especially of vulnerable individuals and communities; vastly inequitable distribution of wealth; and the erosion of social participation in political decision-making in favour of the prerogatives of economic elites. This industrialisation has also produced a culture in which the commoditisation of every aspect of life – even of the human person – has become normative, reducing human existence to an unending cycle of production and consumption undertaken with ever greater efficiency.

The consequence of all these developments has been twofold. The first is that they have been destructive of human relationality, both in terms of our relationships with one another and our relationship with the wider ecology. Human beings and human relationships have been instrumentalised: instead of being an end in themselves they have become a means to an end. We no longer speak of our life together, but of what we “can get out of” one another. This is especially the case with the idea of “equality”: it has simply become a euphemism for a relationship or an interaction being “equally” manipulative or exploitative, in which both parties “consent” to being so used provided they also “get what they want”.

The second consequence is that of hubris, of conceit. Human “rationality” has convinced itself that human beings are themselves sufficient ground upon which to stand, and that all the institutions and productions of this “rationality” bear the hallmarks of authority and legitimacy that used to be attributed to God. Human beings have become their own idols, self-admiring, narcissistic, convinced that the provisionality and ambiguity that formerly applied to human life has been overthrown. Our self-admiration for our own achievements and our belief in the inevitability of “progress” (and that such “progress” is necessarily benign and liberating) has blinded us to the catastrophic consequences of our conceit. Even our attempts to correct or prevent these consequences proceeds from a belief that we can save ourselves through our acts of power, rather than beginning with a re-orientation of our self-understanding.

Psalm 2, despite the historically specific language in which it is written, speaks directly into modernity’s hubristic culture. It calls us to lay aside the arrogant assumptions of our rationality and to humbly re-enter into relationship – with ourselves and with the wider ecology in which we are embedded. Such a relationship reflects God’s desire for covenantal relationship with humanity, a relationship which expresses itself through our life together. The very idea of humility runs directly counter to our culture’s myth of the autonomous, self-realising individual; but contrary to our belief that it equates to submission – a belief itself born of our insistence upon our own priority – it is instead a recognition of our need for one another, our need to live sustainably with one another in order for us all to flourish and have fullness of life.

2 Peter 1: 16-21

1. Discussion

The Second Letter of Peter is counted as one of the “pastoral letters” of the New Testament. These were a series of missives written to various communities within the early church whose purpose was to address the issues which arose within those communities, and to provide instruction on how the life of faith was to be lived out within those communities and within the wider world. Whether or not all of the “pastoral letters” were actually written by the authors to whom they are attributed is a matter of some debate; but even if they were written by followers of the putative author who then drew on that person’s “authority” to instruct others, as documents they provide valuable insights into the questions by which early Christian communities were exercised, and some of the responses which these questions elicited.

The Second Letter of Peter appears to have been written in response to the emergence of teachings within some early Christian communities that were considered problematic at best, or possibly even dangerously heretical at worst. What the exact nature of these teachings were is not clear; some scholars have speculated that it might have been an early form of Christian Gnosticism. Whatever the case, Second Peter clearly wishes to discredit such teachings in the eyes of the early Christian communities to whom the letter is written, and to reaffirm the “orthodox” teaching that is represented by the person of Peter himself.

Verses 16-18 claims for Peter and his teaching the authority of an eyewitness account, citing Peter’s presence during the Transfiguration event and quoting the well-known affirmation of Jesus as God’s “beloved son”. This authoritative witness statement is contrasted to the “cleverly devised myths” of the heretical teaching, which the author of Second Peter characterises as being invented in order to deceive its audience. Peter, by contrast, taught of what he knew through direct personal experience; he was a witness whose testimony was credible. The teachers of the heresy, however, are spinning webs of beguiling deceit with which to confuse and lead astray the gullible.

Verse 19 continues this theme of authority and credibility: the teaching of Peter is a lamp in a dark world, casting light until it is eventually outshone by the eventual consummation promised in Christ. As such it fulfils the function of being a beacon that draws other people to God, much as Israel itself was to be a light unto the nations. Verses 20 and 21 then affirm that prophecy – and thus, true ministry – are the actions of God’s Holy Spirit moving and working in those people who are open to God’s truth, rather than those who seek to manipulate Scripture for their own purposes. This again contrasts the legitimate teaching of Peter the “witness” with the “interpretation” of the “false teachers”: this “interpretation” is a matter of their own will, their own desire for status and authority. The teaching of Peter is, however, not his own invention or devising, but what he witnessed and proclaimed through the power of the Spirit. Thus Peter’s teaching is to be trusted and adhered to.

Today’s reading from The Second Letter of Peter is a caution against succumbing to the blandishments of “authority” based on plausibility and the appearance of knowing what one is talking about. “False prophets” are often charming, persuasive, and apparently expert; but beneath this superficial veneer lurks a hunger for power and control over others. Sometimes it is for political control; sometimes for social status; sometimes for access to others’ financial resources; sometimes it is to exploit them sexually or emotionally. Regardless of the cause, “false prophets” wear a mask of credibility which they utilise to prey on others. “True teaching”, by contrast, is often “unsexy” inasmuch as it doesn’t appeal to our vanity or greed or self-esteem; but within its “boring” structures there resides the truth of human dignity and worth, which exists not to serve the agenda of another, but to affirm human relational co-existence.

2. Reflection

The issue of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” is an interesting one where it concerns modernity’s construction of work and economy. The idea of “orthodoxy” has been appropriated by the beneficiaries of the status quo to not only justify the system that upholds their privilege, but to also discredit the ideas of those who seek change – indeed, if necessary, to demonize them as “threats” to “social stability”. Of course, in doing so they are replicating a similar strategy utilised by other entrenched regimes of power and privilege over the course of history; but given the cultural narrative of “rationality” and of “individual autonomy” that pervades modernity, the use of emotive terms like “heresy” is indicative of the manipulative irony of the present situation.

Since the late 20th century, the ideology of neoliberalism has become paramount, to the extent that the period after about 1980 is known as the “neoliberal ascendancy”. This marks a shift in economic thinking away from state intervention in markets to protect society from manipulation and wrongdoing by economic actors, toward a more “laissez faire” approach similar to that of the 19th century. Under this approach, governments “deregulate” both financial and industrial markets, and “privatise” formerly state-owned enterprises such as power utilities and transport services. The rationalisation for this approach is that it allegedly promotes entrepreneurial innovation, efficiency in production, and facilitates the distribution of wealth through society. The actual evidence as to whether or not this is the case is rather more debatable.

Yet such is the pervasiveness of neoliberal ideology that it has achieved the status of an “orthodoxy” – that is to say, “orthodoxy” in the pejorative sense of the term, denoting an inflexible, oppressive regime that has attained the status of idolatry, of an unquestionable “divine law”. In this context, “heresy” is not merely something which challenges or presents an alternative “interpretation” or understanding of a first principle, but which represents an existential threat to the established and unquestioned order. As such, the “heresy” must be ridiculed and vilified and attacked at every opportunity.

The irony is that “orthodoxy” doesn’t actually mean “eternal, unquestionable truth”. The word orthodoxy comes from the Greek, meaning “to give right praise to God”. In other words, orthodoxy, properly understood, is about God and not about ourselves. It is not about our claims to authority and legitimacy and power; it is about the sovereignty of God and the orientation of human life toward relationship with God. Orthodoxy is about not assuming the status and prerogatives of God, but about giving up power in order to engage in relationship

The idolatry of neoliberalism speaks with the voice of credibility and plausibility, backed by the voices of “experts” armed with mathematical formulae and “proofs” that assert the correctness of their claims and the “necessity” of submitting to their dictates. In this context, “heresy” is anything which re-imagines what work and economy might “look like”, which re-imagines what the role and meaning of work and economy might be in human life. Indeed, any understanding of work and economy as means toward the end of covenantal, relational co-existence poses an existential threat to the idolatry of neoliberalism; it undermines the reliance of neoliberalism upon the myth of the autonomous self-realising individual and replaces it with an understanding of economy and work as the mechanisms of mutual inter-dependence and flourishing.

Today’s reading from Second Peter reminds us of the need to challenge appealing, credible narratives that appear reasonable and fruitful, but which hide the self-serving agenda of those who are the chief beneficiaries of the status quo which the narrative seeks to establish and defend. It also reminds us to be suspicious of those narratives which appeal to the impulse to self-idolise, to reduce the question of life to a matter of what “works” for “me” as distinct from what upholds our common dignity and the fruitfulness of our relationships with one another. Our life together is not simply a matter of individual “interpretation”, and we need to resist those narratives and idolatries that seek to persuade us that what “is right for me” and what is right are one and the same.

Matthew 17: 1-9

1. Discussion

The reading for Transfiguration Sunday from The Gospel According to Matthew takes place at the end of a series of readings in which Jesus expands upon the themes of the Beatitudes and how the life of faith is to be lived out and embodied. As such, the Transfiguration brings to an end the season of Epiphany by being a revelation itself: a revelation of who Jesus is, and of the changes to human life which the Transfiguration both points toward and makes present.

The account in Matthew begins with Jesus taking three of his disciples – Peter, James, and John – up to the top of a mountain. In locating the Transfiguration at the top of a mountain, the Gospel writers are reaching back into the depths of Israel’s sacred history: mountains are places where humans encounter God. Abraham did so, as did Moses, as did prophets like Elijah. Mountains are places where the realm of God intersects with the worldly domain. And it is this aspect of intersection, of nexus, that will be critical in the Transfiguration narrative.

Jesus’ own change in appearance again echoes the drama of Israel’s sacred history. Moses was similarly transformed by his encounter with God upon Mount Sinai when he received the Law. But whereas Moses’ transfiguration causes consternation – Moses had to thereafter wear a veil to hide his face – Jesus’ transformation results in a sense of joy: upon the appearance of Moses and Elijah, Peter declares “how good” it is to be in their presence, and offers the hospitality of making tents for the three. This again has echoes from the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically, of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers. Likewise, the very presence of Moses and Elijah touches upon messianic currents that were extant in Jesus’ own day: it was widely believed at the time that the reappearance o Elijah would signal the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the Kingdom of David. The presence of Moses and Elijah do represent the Messiahship of Jesus; but not of the fulfilment of the messianic expectation of the time. That, too, will be important to the meaning of the Transfiguration event.

The joy, however, is short lived. A cloud descends upon the mountain, again recalling the clouds that blot out the summit of Mount Sinai, and into which Moses disappeared, causing fear among the Hebrew peoples. From this cloud, the same voice that, in Matthew, is publicly heard at Jesus’ Baptism, is heard again:  the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God and God’s Beloved recall the titles that were bestowed upon the kings of ancient Israel; but they are also a theological declaration about Jesus’ identity and the purpose of his ministry. At this, the disciples fall to the ground in trembling fear, overcome by the import of this declaration. But Jesus moves to reassure them; for his Transfiguration is not about crushing power but revelation of God’s purpose. That revelation is overwhelming from the human perspective; but it is also liberating, the free gift of God to humankind and to creation.

This is indicated in Jesus’ warning to the disciples that they remain silent about what they have seen until his ministry and its purpose have unfolded. For Jesus’ Messiahship is not a matter of tawdry public display, of drawing to himself followers whom he can exploit for political or personal purposes. Rather, it is for the purposes of revelation to the world, of disclosing to all the love which God bears creation. And it will be the task of the disciples and those who follow to continue that ministry, to continue to proclaim God’s love and the promise of consummation with which it will culminate.

Today’s reading from the Gospel According to Matthew highlights Jesus as the intersection between heaven and earth, as the nexus through which God comes to humankind, and through whom humanity comes into relationship with God. Thus, the fulfilment of the covenant promise contained in the Law becomes, not a matter of humans coming to God but of God reaching out to humanity through Christ. The game, as it were, has changed; because humanity has proved itself incapable of entering into the relationship enshrined in the Law, God will do something different. The Messiah will be someone different. The Messiah will fulfil God’s promise, but not in the way people anticipate. The Transfiguration of Jesus not only anticipates the redemptive change of humanity that is promised in the consummation of all things into the life of God, it also signals the change in human destiny which God has wrought through God’s change in approach. Human life has been transfigured out of the necessity for obedience to Law into a condition in which it is made available to the freely given grace of God. Jesus is not changed but revealed in the Transfiguration; and in that revelation, everything for humanity is changed – forever.

2. Reflection

The human construction of work and economy promises to change our lives; it promises us the granting of our heart’s desires, and the liberation of our spirit from bondage to our very creatureliness. The idea is that if we “work hard” and “make a contribution” and “determine our own destiny” we can be our own “messiah”, the fulfiller of our own promises. Salvation, within the construction of neoliberal economics and the myth of the heroic individual, is a matter of self-redemption – it is always self-referential.

The idea of covenant and relationship however, is other referential. It recognises that salvation is less a matter of our own heroic purpose than of the way in which we live intentionally with others, integrated into the network of communal relations and ecological connections that sustain our existence. Salvation is not a matter of what I “achieve” but of what we embody and embrace through relationship with one another. For the relationship sought by God with humankind is one that draws humanity into the orbit of God’s grace; salvation comes when our own relationships embody this inclusive graciousness, the hospitality of God.

The reduction of human life to “inputs” into the various modes of production, or the objectification of human life as a “cost” to productivity, makes human beings and our relationships with one another nothing more than a means to an end. Likewise, the extension of the prerogatives of corporate self-interest into every sphere of human existence reduces work to a one-dimensional, oppressive tyrant, instead of work being a means to the end of human flourishing. In other words, a dehumanising inversion has occurred: work and economy have become ends in themselves, while humans are nothing more than a means to those ends.

This inversion is maintained by the illusion of our own agency, by the myth that if we enslave ourselves to the dictates of corporatist capitalism, we will somehow “earn” our liberation and thus become “free” through our own heroic efforts. In many respects, this is not unlike the idea that we can “earn” our way into grace and salvation by doing enough good works, or being pious enough, or attending church services enough, and so forth. This “salvation by works” theology has long been rejected by the church because it places humanity in the position of God; that is to say, in a position to save ourselves, when in truth we are only saved through the grace of God. In the same way, the idolatry of work enslaves us in the cause of our own “freedom”, under the delusion that we can work our way to fulfilment and flourishing.

But the promises of this idolatry only lead to frustration and despair. As the prerogatives of corporatist capitalism take over more and more aspects of human life, as the systemic inequalities and uncertainties it produces make the promises seem ever further away, as our own recognition of enslavement and powerlessness becomes ever more apparent, we sink ever further into a mire of hopelessness and resignation. The beneficiaries of the status quo tell as that the crushing realities of neoliberalism are not only “necessary” they are also inevitable, and that no alternatives are possible or feasible. We are told that this is the way t is and how it has to be – and we believe this pronouncement.

But the Transfiguration points to another narrative – to a Gospel which declares that alienation is not the normative condition of human life, that human salvation is not a matter of how hard we work or how much will-power we exert over our circumstances, that the purpose of existence is to neither produce nor consume but to live relationally with one another and with the ecology in which we are embedded. The Transfiguration declares that salvation is not self-centred but other-centred, the product of a love that flows outward from God and which invites us into covenantal relationship. The Transfiguration declares that we ought not be afraid, but have confidence in the God who comes to us and becomes one of us in the person of Jesus.

Today’s reading from The Gospel According to Matthew is a declaration by God that the whole of creation exists within the orbit of God’s redemptive grace, and that in the human life of Jesus and his resurrection as the Christ, the realm of humanity and the realm of God not only intersect but become one. Human beings are not mere means to an end but an end in themselves; work and economy are not the end purpose of human existence but means to the end of our mutual flourishing. But it is only by reversing the inversion that has taken place, by transfiguring work and economy out of their idolatrous, oppressive present into a relational framework for human co-existence that we will be able to come within sight of the fulness of human life that Christ came to give.  

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