Read the text here: Matthew 17:1-9
Listening to What? (or - "The Law and the Prophets Sing")
How well do you take advice? How well do you listen to others and consider their counsel? If we are honest, most of us are not terribly good at this. Yes, we ask others what they think about this or that, but usually we just want those others to confirm our already set decision or course of action. In fact, I think we pride ourselves on being self-sufficient and independent so much that sometimes we can make some really terrible life decisions simply because we refuse to listen to anyone else. “I don’t need anybody else,” we say, “I can do it on my own, thank you very much!” Rarely do we consider that our vision and ability to make objective and wise decisions may be skewed by our pre-conceptions, prejudices and priorities.
Listening is therefore difficult for us and it is not just general life and relationship decisions that are affected but we often apply this to our faith and our relationship with God. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard some version of the following statement spoken by well-meaning and faithful Christians: “I believe what I believe and that’s all there is to it and I don’t need to learn anything else, and don’t challenge what I believe.” Not too long ago I was appalled to listen to a preacher tell one story after another about foolish professors and their happily ignorant but faithful students who manage to remain faithful only because they are completely closed to any kind of learning or growth – because they are closed to listening! The problem is that this attitude keeps us from learning and growing in our faith. If we never challenge our faith, if we never doubt or ask questions we will never grow. The result is that we just continue blindly forward with our childish, untested faith until we hit against the reality of the darkness of life and then we are shattered and can loose our faith completely. A confirmation level faith is fine for 8th graders who have just completed confirmation; but it is not so fine for an adult.
In our Gospel story of the Transfiguration we hear the story of how Jesus takes three of his closest disciples up the mountain where he is transfigured and where the disciples see a vision of Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. And Peter immediately jumps to the obvious conclusion based on his own background and pre-conceptions and priorities: Moses and Elijah – The Law and the Prophets are supporting Jesus in his work and ministry! I would even go so far as to suggest that Peter, at this point, sees Jesus himself as following Moses and the Elijah, the Law and the Prophets. Consequently, all he has to do is to also follow the Law and the Prophets in order to be right with God. And this is not only Peter. The other disciples and followers of Jesus down through the ages, including us - we too see the Law and the Prophets as the key to a relationship with God, right? By following the Law and the Prophets then we show God our commitment and devotion and in return God might then help us accomplish our various goals. It is a great system! Reciprocity at its best! Peter even goes so far as to want to celebrate this system offering to build “booths” (or “dwellings”) which should remind us of the people of Israel wandering in the desert setting up a booth or a dwelling for the Ark of the Covenant. I am sure this relation to the wandering story is no accident, Peter knew the story; it was a part of him and informed his actions and life decisions. And it makes sense. With such a simple system of reciprocity it is natural to want to celebrate and maintain it in this manner.
But it really is not quite that simple because Jesus is doing something completely different here. Back in chapter 5, verse 17, Jesus is quite clear that HE is the one who fulfills the Law and the Prophets. The relationship between humanity and God is different now. We don’t have to follow the Law and the Prophets in order to appease or impress God, or to manipulate God into doing our bidding, because Jesus has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and the relationship between us and God is now one of forgiveness and love and unconditional grace. But it is hard to wrap our heads around this – old ways of thinking are hard to change. How do we even start making this shift? Well, the voice of God speaks – “This is my Son, the beloved… Listen to Him.” There it is.
But it is not so easy for us to listen, is it? Think about your prayer life – when you pray how much of your prayer time is devoted to listening and how much is devoted to talking to God and telling God what we want and need. Now it is not a bad thing for us to share our concerns and needs with God, we should do this – but, we also need to allow time for us to listen to God as well. When we begin to listen to God we will hear words of God’s immense love for us, God’s unconditional grace showered upon us, and God’s enthusiastic forgiveness of us. And this should change our way of relating to God and others and our way of living in the world.
In particular it should change our relationship with the Law and the Prophets, which should then cease to be a set of requirements and instead become for us a guide and a goal for our lives and our relationships. Once I am freed from the requirement of following the Law and the Prophets as a condition for God’s love and favor, then they can take their place standing beside Jesus providing guidance and counsel and helping me set priorities for life that have at their foundation the incredible love and grace of God. Once I am freed from the requirement of following the Law and the Prophets, I am freed then to follow Jesus down the mountain and on to the cross!