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But apparently, it's not about the glory. The display of glory is not intended to overwhelm the disciples with wonder, though I suspect they did experience wonder. The glory seems designed to get their attention so that the Father can make three things clear: that Jesus is his Father's son; that Jesus is loved by his Father; and therefore, the disciples should listen to Jesus.

 It's the second and third parts that interest me—that the disciples should listen to Jesus because Jesus is loved by the Father. That's a connection that doesn't make sense at first blush. What does love have to do with authority? Yet, I think we can grasp what is happening in this extraordinary revelation if we contrast it with a few ways we usually delegate, confer, or grasp at authority.

For example, we sometimes try to confer authority through delegated power. In my workplace, like many, our president often delegates authority to his administrative assistant. When it comes to the formal ladder of authority in our company, the senior managing editor of the flagship magazine has more authority than the administrative assistant to the president. But when the president of the company delegates a task to his administrative assistant, and that administrative assistant asks me to do X, Y, or Z, I do it as if the president has asked me to do it.

When she calls and says, "Mark, Harold would like to set up a lunch with you next week," I don't say, "Well, he knows my number. Tell him to call me! What are you bothering me for?"

No, I respond to Paulette as if it was Harold personally asking me to clear my calendar for him. That's delegated power.

In some ways, of course, Jesus has a kind of delegated authority, no? He's the only begotten Son of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God. And so in our preaching and teaching we sometimes exploit this type of authority: "Jesus had the authority of God. He's Lord. Listen to him!"

We're most tempted to use this approach when people are not living according to the teachings of the gospel. Someone will complain to us, "My friend has betrayed me. It's something I can never forgive. My so-called friend has become my enemy. I will have nothing to do with him!"

And we'll say, at the right pastoral moment of course, "You need to let go, forgive, and love this friend." Along the way, we may talk about the health benefits of not harboring resentment, about the freedom it will bring to forgive, and so on and so forth, trying to cajole our friend into forgiveness. But when our friend remains adamant, and asks one more time, "So give me one good reason I should forgive," that's when we pull out the delegated authority card: "Because Jesus told us to forgive, and he is Lord. We have to listen to him."

What's interesting in the story of the Transfiguration is that during Jesus' greatest moment of glory (at least until the Crucifixion), God does not pull out the delegated authority card. He doesn't say, "This is my son, in whom I have invested all my glory and power. Listen to him!" No, he says something odd and counterintuitive: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him."

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Another way we confer authority is by way of endorsement or by appealing to expertise.

My family is at an extended family gathering in a nice California restaurant in Morro Bay. After we give our orders, the waiter asks, "Will you be having wine with your dinner?"

SoulWork
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Galli is editor of Christianity Today and author of God Wins, Chaos and Grace, A Great and Terrible Love, Jesus Mean and Wild, Francis of Assisi and His World, and other books.
Previous SoulWork Columns:
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