The word “exodus” conjures thoughts of the Israelites in bondage, Moses’ battle with Pharaoh, and the 10 plagues. We think of the Passover, Israel’s escape and the parting of the Red Sea. Formed from the prefix “out of” (ex) and the Greek word for “way” (hodos), exodus means the way out, or going forth. Israel’s exodus from Egypt is the most well-known. But there is another biblical exodus.
In this Sunday’s gospel, at the scene of the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus “of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). This is an unexpected phrase. We might expect the great prophets to speak with Jesus about his passion and resurrection, but his exodus? What are they talking about?
As out of place as it might seem, closer examination reveals St. Luke’s masterly use of this term. Exodus has two principal definitions. The most familiar, as already noted, is the physical movement from one place to another. But the term exodus is also a euphemism for death. Instead of a physical movement, it refers to a spiritual movement, the movement from this life to the next (see also 2Pt 1:15). Therefore, the exodus of Jesus can be understood as a reference to his death, his going forth from this world. But Luke had more in mind when he chose this term.
Notice, for instance, that Moses and Elijah speak of the exodus Jesus will accomplish. This is a bit strange. Jesus does not accomplish his death. He is killed. What he does accomplish, however, is our salvation. This is Luke’s point.
When Jesus goes to his death in Jerusalem, he accomplishes, like Moses, an exodus for his followers. This time, the enemy is not the Egyptians, but death itself. Jesus does not break physical bonds, but the deeper bonds of sin. Moses led an exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, whose capital became Jerusalem. From that same Jerusalem, Jesus now leads an exodus from sin and death, an exodus to eternal life. This is what Jesus accomplished on the Cross (his exodus); he opened the way to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Early believers called Christianity “the way” (hodos). They might have called it “the exodus.” Christianity is “the way out” of the bonds and chains of this world into the great freedom of heaven. Following Christ, we leave behind “our fleshpots” (Ex 16:3) and cling to the heels of he who feeds us with the “bread from heaven” (Ex 16:4) and leads us to the Promised Land.
Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from Pontifical North American College in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s Scriptural reflections during Lent.