Metamorphoses seen throughout bible

Curtis K. Shelburne

Metamorphosis. It’s a cool-sounding word. I like the way it rolls off the tongue.

It’s one of those words that we’ve just trucked in completely “as is” from one language—in this case, Greek—right over into English. You see, “metamorphosis” comes from the Greek word—wait for it!—“metamorphosis.”

“Meta” has to do with “change,” and “morphe” has to do with “form,” so metamorphosis has to do with a change of form, a transformation. It’s a great word for what happens when, for example, a caterpillar changes into a butterfly—a wonderful metamorphosis.

Franz Kafka once wrote a short story dealing with a not-so-wonderful metamorphosis. He wrote about a guy who woke up one morning and discovered that he’d turned into a cockroach. Sounds weird, I know, but I’m afraid it happens more often than we’d like to think. It seems to be pretty much what Charlie Sheen is experiencing right now.

Four-year-old granddaughter Brylan was breathless last week as she was telling me some Bible stories she’d just learned, and, come to think of it, a metamorphosis was involved. She told me about Moses’ staff being changed into a snake! She told me about a river in Egypt being changed into blood. Metamorphosis! (She also told me of how God’s people painted blood on the doors of their houses and that if you stayed outside your house, you’d die, and so people went inside their houses and watched TV.)

When we come to Chapter 17 in Matthew’s Gospel, we come to the story of a very important change that three of the disciples witnessed. Up on a high mountain, they witnessed that amazing transformation as Jesus’ face suddenly “shone like the sun” and his clothes became as “white as light.” Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, appeared and began to talk to Jesus, the real Sacrifice for sin the law could only point toward, the greatest of all prophets. Then the voice of God boomed from heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Before long, Jesus would suffer and die, and the disciples would endure great perplexity before the Resurrection and Pentecost. But they had seen the glorified Lord. They’d heard the benediction of Heaven. They’d seen Jesus “transfigured” before their very eyes, and they would never forget.

Jesus was still their friend, their teacher, their companion. But he was also, as Peter had famously confessed, the very Son of God. They saw more clearly than ever before what the Church has for centuries now affirmed as central to our faith: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Yes, it is a great mystery, but no belief which affirms anything less than the miracle of both of those great truths is good enough.

He is our Lord and our God, fully human and fully divine, full of grace and truth, full of love and glory.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at