Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke write of Jesus' glorious transfiguration on Mount Tabor in their Gospel accounts. St. John characteristically makes no mention of this incident since, for the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is ever glorious. He is always the master of the situation in St. John's account, as when his very response to the band that comes to arrest him is to knock them to the ground. The Jesus of St. John's Gospel is already victorious over evil in the mind of the fourth Evangelist. His triumph is a foregone conclusion.
But the Synoptic Gospels prefer to highlight Jesus' struggle against the powers of evil - not only his daily contest with the devil who makes his presence felt through sin, sickness, and death, but even more through the ultimate struggle of Christ with Satan, specifically his passion and death. In spite of the glorious outcome of Jesus' paschal experience, the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday were a scandal to Jesus' friends and followers. That the Messiah should die an ignominious death certainly countered the fond expectations of the Jewish people. They wanted a victor, not a victim. The suffering servant motif might have had a biblical foundation but it had little popular appeal. The Jews had suffered enough.
Jesus himself certainly recognized that his passion and death would trip up his followers, disturbing even his closest friends. He anticipated their dashed hopes. In a bid to strengthen the morale of his comrades, Jesus invites Sts. Peter, James and John to a mountainside in Galilee, where his heavenly glory is revealed in its entire splendor and his divine vocation as Son of the Eternal Father is resoundingly affirmed. Sts. Matthew and Mark happily describe the event with graphic accuracy, including the iridescent Jesus, the two ancient prophets, the celestial cloud and the heavenly voice. But only St. Luke reveals to his readers the exact content of the conversation shared by Jesus, Moses and Elias.
St. Luke graciously informs his readers that Christ and the two Old Testament prophets spoke of the Messiah's "exodus," which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. There are few richer words in the Scripture than the word "exodus." The exodus journey, the removal of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and their providential arrival in the promised land of Israel, was the defining event for Judaism. The God who rescued the Hebrews from the harsh rule of the pharaoh, who guided, fed and sustained them in the wilderness, who entrusted to them the Ten Commandments, who organized them into a people as they approached the shores of the Jordan, who punished them for their sins and who awarded them with a land flowing with milk and honey would be the God that would ever after seize the Jewish imagination.This God was "YHWH," who was there for them in their time of need.
Now, this God of the exodus who delivered the Jews from slavery into freedom is the same God who will sustain Jesus through his exodus, through his passion and death, and who will deliver the Christian world from slavery to sin and into the freedom of the sons of God.
The ancient exodus was an event of political, cultural and religious deliverance. The new exodus, accomplished through Christ, is a similar event of spiritual, cultural and ecclesial deliverance.
The new exodus, the Christian exodus, is none other than the paschal mystery, the central mystery of Christian life, celebrated daily in the heart of the liturgy as the faithful proclaim, "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in the glory!"
The paschal mystery, founded on the exodus of Jesus, is the dying to sin and rising to the new life of faith and charity that is the very heart of the Christian experience. Just as surely as Jesus died on Good Friday and rose on Easter Sunday, so the Christian believer is given a pledge of redemption at baptism and then is sustained throughout his own personal exodus, through his own individual journey from sinful ways to a sanctified life.
The Jews treasured the memory of their passage; Jesus at the Transfiguration looked forward to his transit from Friday's cross to Sunday's empty tomb; the Christian world is encouraged to persevere in its transformation from sinful ways to faithful worship assured through Christ.
(This column originally published in The Providence Visitor)