“Get up…don’t be afraid.”
-Jesus, Matthew 17:7
This brief moment takes me back to an old college professor who impressed upon us the reality of the Third Commandment–a lesson that has stayed with me all these years. He told us, in short, that this guideline was in more danger of being broken in the monastery than the saloon.
“Do not take the name of the Lord in vain” is one of those things we think we know the meaning of, but in reality goes rather deeper than we supposed. Using the Lord’s name in a forbidden way is not just about cursing God’s name (though that can certainly be a part of it) but is about what it means to respect and reverence the Lord and realize, as best we can, Who God really is (and is not).
We who are the religious leaders are in most danger of this kind of irreverence, as we use the name of God so much that it has become commonplace. Think about it: we pastors and professors are always saying “God this” and “God that.” We do this so much that God becomes just one actor or object amongst many. Mostly unintentionally, we have defined God away. In so controlling God’s name we have reduced the Divine to our particular material. The name of God becomes like any other name or word, and in the process is domesticated.
Thinking that we have control over some aspect of God is a very human thing to do. It makes us feel safe and steady. The world makes sense when God, like everything else, is conformed to our understanding.
Peter, James, and John may very well have felt they had some things about the ways of God figured out here in Matthew 17. Until God spoke to them from Heaven and they fell to their faces. God unsettled them. Terrified them.
May we think twice before understanding God in commonplace ways–with or without the requisite voice from Heaven.