To study a text in the way I have attempted to share with you in the accompanying article is not an affront to the sacredness of the Scriptures. Rather, it is an effort to deal honestly with all the details of the texts. Respect for the Scriptures permits no less. No serious believer can be content with merely the general outline of the Transfiguration story. If God has inspired variety in the different versions of an event, it is in order to stimulate our reflection.
Literary criticism permits us to enter into the life of the early Christian communities. We can share their reflections on the traditions that they received concerning Jesus. We can appreciate the resources they employed to enhance their understanding of Jesus. And we can be grateful for their pastoral concern to incorporate their new insights in the documents that have now been handed down to us. Those who are content to stay on the surface of the text are the poorer because of their ignorance of such riches.
On another level, literary criticism brings us closer to the historical Jesus. Beneath the layers of theological development, whose value and authority is in no way denigrated by a literary analysis, we are permitted to perceive a human figure, whose problems were similar to those of his followers, then and now. In the original story uncovered from the Transfiguration narrative, we see Jesus struggling through doubt and bewilderment to a new perception of his Father’s will for him. Only when we see this Jesus, the real Jesus, can we grasp the truth of what the author of the epistle to the Hebrews meant when he wrote that Jesus “had to be made like his brethren in every respect …. We have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15).