Between the Lines: Transfiguration: March 6, 2011

Text: Matthew 17:1-9

James Carse and Mary Gordon as quoted in the Parallel Readings (see below) have very different opinions of who Jesus was and is. It has been said that if you tell me your estimate or theology of Jesus – such as his divinity – I will know everything else about you. This may be true since your portrait of Jesus reveals what you think and believe not only about the man from Nazareth but, by implication, about God, the world and even yourself. For instance, a divine Jesus who is God says something about who God is and how he enters, intervenes, communicates with, and judges the world. It reveals something of your anthropology – the way you conceive of the human’s relationship to the Holy – and by implication your estimate of being human. Your estimate of Jesus gives away where your ultimate concern is centered and the focus of your life choices. For most of us the Jesus description is some vague and uncertain. Perhaps this is why “Son of Man” was Jesus’ characterization of himself in Matthew, Mark and Luke and why the title continues to confound us.


Polke's Son of Man window

Christopher Isherwood writes in the Travel section of The New York Times on September 26, 2010 of Zurich. He describes the new stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke, the German painter who died this year, in the Grossmunster Church there. “Recently unveiled…five have biblical themes. Particularly riveting is the black-and-white composition considering the concept of “the son of man” – an ambiguous phrase referring to Christ and sometimes to humanity itself. This duality of meaning is reflected in the optical illusion rendered by Polke in the glass. If you focus on the light coming through the white glass you see a stack of delicately carved chalices; if you see instead the black shapes carving the light, you see human faces in profile.”

– Bill Dols (

So can we find the “real” Jesus? The question answers itself. Although many of these Jesuses are compatible wIth one or several others, none of them is a perfect resemblance, and most are so unlike the others that it seems only accidental that they have the same name. Indeed, each of them would consider all of the others impostors. All these Jesuses are there, of course, only because they have been invited by someone who believes they are real.

James P. Carse, The Religious Case Against Belief
(New York: Penguin Books, 2008)

I have an Irish friend who is the person I have known best who most closely embodies the holy, although he would hate to hear me saying that. I ask him if he thinks Jesus is God. “I do” he says, “only I’m not quite sure what God is.”

Mary Gordon, Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels
(New York: Pantheon Books, 2009)


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