Sitting out on the patio in the warm sunshine in Kent, I was admiring my sister-in-law’s potted plants. Suddenly my eyes focused on something unusual on a fuchsia branch. Looking closely, I remembered seeing exactly the same thing in South Wales years before. It had a large, arresting head end – the large, dark eyespot markings giving it the sinister appearance of a snakes’s head! At the other end of the soft and thick brown-grey body was a black tail spike. It was an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar and, at 85mm long, is one of the largest and most distinctive in Britain! It takes about 30 days to grow to full size from the 4mm mini-versions that hatch from eggs. To complete its’ life cycle, this sluggish soft-bodied creature forms a leathery-cased chrysalis (or pupa) and from this a totally different form emerges. It changes to an attractive pink and brown moth, that moves quickly through the air on its delicate wings.
This incredible transformation is called metamorphosis. It is controlled by hormones. Tissues are broken down in the chrysalis (they virtually liquify) and then cell growth and development cause the different tissues and organs of the adult to form!
Now, is there a spiritual lesson here? Well, the Greek word ‘to metamorphose’ is ‘metamorpho’ and it occurs in the New Testament just four times. It is translated as ‘transfigured’ in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:23, as ‘transformed’ in Romans 12:2 and as ‘changed’ in 2 Corinthians 3:18 KJV.
The two gospel verses speak of Jesus’ change in appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration: “and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew17:2). Peter, one of the disciples watching this, later wrote in his second epistle that they were “eyewitnesses of his majesty for he received from God the father honour and glory”.2 Peter 1:16 KJV. It was as if they were seeing Jesus as King coming in power to reign – eternal, glorified, with all righteousness and power.
Some years later, Paul the apostle, writing to Christians in Rome, encouraged them not to conform to the surrounding culture but to be “transformed by the renewing” of their minds. Romans 12:2 This would enable an outlook that was good, mature and acceptable to God, being changed from the inside outwards.
Paul also wrote to the church at Corinth, a city notorious for depravity, and again brought in ‘metamorpho’: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (changed) into the same image from one degree of glory to another” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV). It has been described as transfigured into ever increasing splendour” or as another has paraphrased it “nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of His face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (The Message Bible)
So, regardless of cultural background, we are to change, trying every day to become more Christ-like. The apostle Peter puts it like this in the following free paraphrase, “complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipleship, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the other” (2 Peter 1:5-8, The Message Bible).
The complete transformation for the faithful is at Jesus’ return, when they are resurrected and judged and “have everlasting life … and shall shine like the brightness of the sky above” Daniel 12 : 2-3).
Perhaps the freedom in flight of our moth emerging from an apparently lifeless chrysalis can be a trigger to help us think about these things. It gives a little echo of some uplifting words in Isaiah, “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” ( Isaiah 40:31)