In this Sunday’s Gospel reading Luke recounts the Transfiguration of Jesus, an event that is absolutely packed with meaning.
The new Moses
In the gospel reading, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain and he is transfigured. In the midst of this, Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus and "were conversing with him" (Lk 9:30).
Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets. Their appearance is a way of showing us that Jesus is indeed the complete fulfillment of the law and the words of the prophets. "Moses and Elijah had seen God’s glory on the Mountain; the Law and the Prophets had announced the Messiah’s sufferings" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 555). These two prophets were also the only ones in the Old Testament to hear God’s voice atop Mount Sinai.
Jesus is the focus of the event, something made abundantly clear near the end of the passage by the phrase, "After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone" (Lk 9:36). This scene almost foreshadows what will take place after the Resurrection when Jesus breaks bread in Emmaus with the two disciples. After celebrating the Eucharist with them, Jesus "vanished out of their sight" (Lk 24:31b). Here too, Jesus is the focus of the event; though it is his Eucharistic presence which takes precedence in the scene. Jesus himself puts this spotlight on this, helping us us to understand by vanishing out of their sight.
Luke continues to show us that the promise of a new and greater exodus is being fulfilled in Jesus, the new Moses. This is demonstrated by the many parallels between Moses and Jesus, as well as an event in Exodus 24, and in Jesus’ Transfiguration. For example:
1. Moses himself is present in both events (Ex 24; Lk 9).
2. Both events take place on a mountain (Ex 24:13, 15).
3. Moses and Jesus both take three companions (Ex 24:1).
4. Both of their faces shine with God’s glory (Ex 34:29).
5. In both events there is the glory cloud of God’s presence, the shekinah (Ex 24:15-16).
6. God speaks through a heavenly voice (Ex 24:12).
Have you ever wondered what exactly Jesus, Moses and Elijah were talking about? Luke tells us that they "spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem" (9:30).
Also fascinating is the fact that the Book of Revelation speaks of Jerusalem as the new Egypt (cf. 11:7-8). In this same context, Revelation also speaks of two witnesses. "They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying" (Rv 11:6a). This is exactly what Elijah did in 1 Kings 17:1. They also "have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to afflict the earth with every plague, as often as they desire" (Rv 11:6b). This is exactly what Moses did in Exodus 7:17.
The next thing Luke shows us which confirms Jesus as the new Moses is a connection with an Old Testament feast inaugurated under Moses. Peter requests that he be able to make three tents, which can also be translated "booths" or "tabernacles." In Leviticus 23:33-43 we are told of the institution of the Feast of Booths which celebrates God’s bringing Israel out of the land of Egypt and also commemorates the giving of the law.
In the reading, we hear the voice of the Father say, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him" (Lk 9:35). This is a reference back to a prophecy of Moses himself when he said, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren – him shall you heed…" (Dt 18:15). Jesus is in fact the new and greater Moses, the eternal Son of the Father.
More beautiful truths
There are, of course, other aspects of the Transfiguration which are significant.
One thing which must be mentioned is that this event takes place right after Jesus has predicted his suffering, death and resurrection. The Apostles have a difficult time with this bit of important information (cf. Lk 9:22).
Jesus then proceeds to give Peter, James and John a special glimpse of his glory. The Transfiguration is a brief foretaste of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The Apostles, given their frail human nature, needed this after hearing the prediction of Jesus’ forthcoming death.
We also get a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity, of the fact that he is God. This is done through the Transfiguration itself and the words which hearken back to Jesus’ baptism. Just as at his baptism, we find the presence, and thus revelation, of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit during the Transfiguration. We also hear the Father speaking to the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In her wisdom, the Church gives us this reading during our arduous journey through Lent. Like the disciples, we need to be bolstered with hope as we traverse the wilderness of the Lenten season. We too get a glimpse of what is to come when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ at Easter. But more importantly we are preparing for our final exodus from this life. We prepare with the joyful hope of seeing the Lord face to face in all his glory, for all eternity.
Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).
Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.
Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.