Perhaps you are familiar with Bonhoeffer’s comment about interruptions: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions” (Life Together, 99). He was talking about being interrupted by other people in the course of ministry. Every preacher can relate. “Just when I was getting some good work done, guess who stopped by the office…” Preachers also understand how unwelcome interruptions often create unexpectedly welcome opportunities for ministry. While they may be frustrating, interruptions are not all bad.
Bonhoeffer’s line came to mind as I compared Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration to Mark’s and Luke’s. Each of the synoptics describe the Father’s voice from the cloud, but Matthew makes the interruption particularly explicit. “While he was still speaking,” (ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος) Matthew says, the Father spoke from the cloud, cutting off Peter and his naive plan. God was not interrupting him for ministry—not yet, at least—so Bonhoeffer’s comment does not apply directly. But God was the interrupter, and that is worth noticing. It would not be the first (or last) time God interrupts His people.
There are a few things to notice about the interruption in our text before you consider its significance for your hearers today. First, Peter was not doing anything particularly sinful or evil. He was speaking from misunderstanding, and that needed to be addressed, but he was not actively opposed to God in this case. Unlike Jesus’ rebuke of Peter in the previous chapter, the Father does not call him Satan (Matthew 16:23). Second, the interruption amounts to a call to be quiet. Stop talking, Peter. Which reminds me of another line from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. “Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking” (97). Again, Bonhoeffer is talking about listening to fellow Christians. He gets closer to the point in our text as he continues: “He who can no longer listen to his brother will so be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too” (98). That is Peter; prattling Peter. Prattling in the presence of God. Graciously, God interrupts him.
Prattling in the presence of God. Graciously, God interrupts him.
The interruption is not the only thing happening in this text, of course. Jesus’ illuminated appearance is a striking display of the eternal Son’s transcendence. The presence of Moses and Elijah locates the Son firmly in the broader biblical narrative and the echoes of Jesus’ baptism in the Father’s affirmation are unmistakable. Each of these is highly significant.
But the interruption stands out to me as particularly useful for preaching today. Like Peter, we often need to be interrupted.
- Sometimes it is because we are engaged in unchristian habits and behaviors.
- Other times, it is because we have been listening to the wrong voices. The possibilities here are endless. You know which voices your hearers are listening to. If not, ask a few members which internet influencers speak into their lives or which Twitter notifications capture their attention throughout the day.
- Still other times, your hearers need to be interrupted from their own speaking. It may be the inner accusations from sins already confessed and forgiven, or the adamant refusal to let go of a grudge. Or, more closely related to our text, the prayers for things which may seem good and right at the time but are not in line with God’s good and perfect will.
God interrupts Peter, but not only to quiet him. He also directs Peter to listen to someone else. “Listen to the one with whom I am pleased,” said the Father. “Listen to my Son,” He said. “Listen to Jesus.” Then, lifting up their eyes, they saw the only one they needed to hear.
And what does Jesus say? Quite a bit, actually. But the first thing they hear is something we could benefit from hearing, too. “Rise and stop being afraid,” He told them. The disciples’ fear was caused by what they were experiencing on the mountain. Your hearers do not have that to be afraid of, but they have other fears, and fear has the power to drown out every other voice.
Perhaps in your sermon this week, then, you might envision yourself as God’s agent of interruption. Identify the most dangerous (or deceptive) voices drowning out the voice of Jesus in your hearers’ lives. As you interrupt them, direct them to listen to Jesus. Through you, He continues to speak promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Through you, He continues saying to His people, “Rise and stop being afraid.”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 17:1-9.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 17:1-9
Lectionary Podcast-Prof. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 17:1-9