Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Last Sunday after the Epiphany


February 23, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

This week, I've been thinking about the meaning of the presence of Moses and Elijah on the mountain with Jesus in the story of the Transfiguation. Their presence communicates a very specific message, I believe, as figures who were precursors to and mentors to Jesus. Below, you can find this week's interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collect and reflection.



Business & Technology

The 5 Types of Mentors You Need in Your Life

Julia Fawal

Article about 5 different types of mentors who can help us further our life goals.

Reflect on how each different type of mentor equips you to lead and consider which roles you play in the lives of others.

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Spirituality & Psychology

Animal Mentors and Why They Matter So Much

Shannon Cutts

Psych Central

Article about how animals mentor humans through life’s challenges.

Think about how animals in your life or whom you have encountered mentor you and impact your way of moving through life.

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Why is the transfiguration not just a spectator event?


Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Matthew 17:1-5

On the Feast of the Transfiguration, we typically focus our attention on the experience Peter, James, and John had of seeing Jesus and the prophets dazzling with the light of God. The Jews called this the Tabor light, or the shekhinah. A light that reveals God’s glory in someone. The dazzle.

And sometimes, too, we focus Jesus’ response to Peter when he wanted to build the booths. We emphasize the fact that Jesus got them off that mountain and back to ministry in the world in a hurry.

These are useful points to emphasize.

But there are narratives behind the Transfiguration that reveal another layer of meaning.

Two stories prefigure today’s gospel: the story of Moses’ death, and the story of Elijah’s death, the two prophets who appear on the mountain top.

Why are these two figures the ones who appear? One might argue that Elijah would have been better paired with Enoch, since both of them ascended from the earth without the un-pleasantries of death. Or one could argue Moses and David should have been paired, two shepherds who delivered their people.

There is one connection between Moses and Elijah that drives the entire story of the Transfiguration. Both are mentors. Moses to Joshua, Elijah to Elisha. And both men die before they complete their destinies.

The first chapter of Joshua begins with Joshua and the people bereft, stopped in their tracks over the loss of their leader. As the book opens, God says to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead. Get going. Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people”. (The Message, from Joshua 1)

Likewise, on the day Elijah dies, Elisha is so grief stricken that he cannot bear even to hear others speak of Elijah’s impending death. When they do, he retorts,“Keep Silent!” And when Elijah finally dies, Elisha rips his clothes in shreds. But then, he takes up Elijah’s mantle, strikes the water, and crosses over the Jordan. Like Joshua, he gets moving.

Peter, James, and John do not realize it on the mount of transfiguration, but they are Joshua and Elisha. While Peter’s attention is on preserving the moment, the very figures appearing before him signal what will soon happen. Jesus will die. And they will need to get up, get going, pick up his mantle, and cross the Jordan.

And no matter how much Jesus tries to prepare them, Peter, James, and John will not be ready to lose him when the time comes. Neither before his death nor the second time, after his resurrection.

They were no more ready than Joshua and Elisha.

Beneath the obvious themes in the story of the Transfiguration lies a message about the importance of mentoring relationships to the work of God.

The word mentor comes from Homer. Mentor was the character in the Odyssey who guided Odysseus’ son, Telemachus during the search for his father. Mentor was actually the goddess of wisdom, Athena, in a hidden form. Mentors, then, are the ones who give us wisdom to guide us in fulfilling our destinies. Sometimes, that wisdom comes like a kick in the pants.

I’ve never really thought much about it until recently, but I believe the Transfiguration is a story about coming into our own. Coming into our own power to lead, to transform this world. To be the heroes we need. It’s a passing of the torch story.

That’s why Moses and Elijah appear. You could not find two more iconic figures to reflect the importance of picking up one’s mantle, of receiving the torch from one’s mentors. Peter, James, and John would soon need to lead in ways they’d not yet imagined. Their turn was coming.

Both of today’s interdisciplinary lessons speak to the range of ways in which we can be mentored–by humans as well as by other species.

We do not become the people we are meant to be in a vacuum. Others show us the way. Others shine in ways that inspire us to grow.

And eventually, there comes a time when they are no longer with us. And we must internalize what we have relied on them to show us. We must pick up the mantle, and get going.

On a world stage with a current cast of anti-mentors and looming threats to life and planet that know no borders,despite our fantasies to the contrary, the time for donning the mantle has never been more clear.

Our work builds on what has come before, but it requires new fire, new light. A transfiguring of our inner selves from those who hold back, who only follow, to those who lead. Seeing our mentors shine like the sun may be inspiring. But it is also foreshadowing. It signals that our turn–to lead and to sacrifice–is coming.

It's time to dazzle.