Leaving the World of Worms
In Romans 12, Paul tells us that we are not to conformed to the world but "be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2). The Greek word translated "transformed" here sounds a bit familiar because it sounds like the English word that comes from it. The Greek word is metamorphoo, the word from which we get "metamorphosis." When a caterpillar crawls out of its cocoon, it is no longer a caterpillar but a butterfly. What was once a homely worm-like critter that ate leaves and crawled around in the dirt is now a beautiful, colorful creature that sips nectar and soars through the sky. The transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is called metamorphosis. That’s the word Paul uses here.
That is also the word that appears in our reading this morning from Matthew 17 (and its parallel in Mark 9) in a familiar though decidedly strange story--
1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-3)
We call this pericope “the Transfiguration of Christ.” One minute, Jesus was standing there with the apostles in his incarnated, flesh and blood body; they next minute Jesus was changed completely into something other than flesh and blood and was chatting with Moses and Elijah! I've always wondered how Peter, James and John immediately knew that these other two people were Moses and Elijah. Did Jesus introduce them and they all shook hands like captains before a football game? Did Moses and Elijah wear “Hello, My Name Is…” name badges? OK, that’s not the main point, but those are the kinds of things I sometimes wonder about.
My point is that the word "transfigured" that Matthew uses in verse 2 is the same Greek word metamorphoo that Paul uses in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In fact, that’s how the NLT translates Matthew 17:2, “Jesus’ appearance was transformed…” So Paul says that just as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, so you and I are to be transfigured, transformed or changed by Him. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 sounds like he is drawing from the imagery of transfiguration-- "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed [metamorphoo] into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Just as Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, we are being daily transfigured into His likeness. We cannot continue to look and act like the world around us; we must rather look more and more like Jesus Himself. The grace that saved us also transformed us, and we must live out that transformation daily. We can get so wrapped up in the world of worms, crawling around in the dust of this world and transfixed by its cares and concerns that we forget that we've gone through the metamorphosis of the gospel and have been transfigured and transformed into something very different. We have been changed… so let’s live like it!