But Jesus touched them

Matthew 17:5-7 But even as Peter spoke [at the Transfiguration of Jesus], a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

Last week at dinner with a friend, I found myself telling her a story I’ve seldom shared with anyone, about Jesus touching me at a time when I was deeply discouraged and afraid. A gorgeous blue butterfly figured prominently in this vision. I thought about that butterfly again while absorbing our pastor Jonathan Warren’s thoughts about Jesus’ transfiguration yesterday morning. The whole sermon is worth your time; you can listen here as soon as it’s posted under 02.23.20: https://www.ascensionpittsburgh.org/sermons/

Image from Shutterstock by Boule

Why a butterfly? The Greek word used in Matthew 17:2, usually translated “transfigured” or “transformed,” is metamorphoo, from which our word metamorphosis is derived. Pastor Jonathan pointed out that Paul used the same word in Romans 12:2, “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

In the spectacular moment of Jesus’ transfiguration, the revelation of his glory, he cared about and cared for his disciples. Jesus lives in that glory, yet he thinks about us in all our grubbiness, and reaches out to heal, restore, and free us. Have you felt his touch? Sometimes I’m so preoccupied with my own stress, anxiety, or angst that I don’t notice him reaching out to me. When I’m still and pay attention, though, I am overwhelmed by his love. I’m taken right back to the time he played with me and the gorgeous blue butterfly.

I think our transformation starts there, with his healing touch, with feeling his love, not just saying “yeah, yeah” in our heads. We hear all the time that Jesus loves us. But that phrase can be sterile and empty until we feel his touch. That’s what enables and energizes us to stand up and walk forward with him again after we’ve been knocked down by our own fear. It changes the way we think, because compared to his love, the imperfections of other people’s love, and our own, and the world we live in, don’t really matter so very much.

The definition of metamorphosis is “the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form.” Indeed, “transform” in Rom 12:2 is in present continuous tense, indicating a process (the same is true in 2 Corinthians 3:18). We are in a process of transformation of the way we think. And when Paul says God’s will for us is good and pleasing and perfect, the focus is on how pleased God is with the direction of our lives, not necessarily how we interpret our circumstances through our childish shortsighted self-centered desire for what feels good. The word translated perfect, teleios, means complete or mature. God wants us to grow up!

The Phillips translation captures this:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

This challenge faces me today. Will I be willing for Jesus’ love to mature me, showing me how my life can please him? Will I be still long enough to feel his touch? And will I pay attention to his showing me how to pass his love on to others, to the specific people God brings into my life?

Interesting: the expression Jesus used to tell the disciples to get up in Mt 17:7 (“arise,” in the KJV) is the same in Mark 5:41 when he tells the little girl (Talita, in Portuguese) to get up after he touched her! I’ll have many opportunities to remember, through our new little granddaughter Talita, God’s love for me. His loving touch that doesn’t leave me stuck, but invites me to arise and walk forward with him.

Three days old!

Any family gaining a second child is amazed at how big and competent their older child suddenly becomes, compared to the new baby. Two-year-old maturity is impressive–but we wouldn’t want even Caleb to stay where he is!

Lord Jesus, in your amazing love, please touch each one of us, today, in our places of fear and wounding and brokenness and loss. Reveal to us your light, your glory. And transform us to be like you.

2 thoughts on “But Jesus touched them

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