Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36 – NRSV)
Similar accounts can be found in Matthew 17.1–8, Mark 9.2–8 and 2 Peter 1.16–18
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James – Luke has already introduced us to this trio of Peter with James and John – see Luke 5:1-11. They also appear together in Luke 8:51. In Luke 22:8 – preparation of the Passover – it is Peter and John who are sent. In Luke 9:54 it is James and John who want to bring down fire on the Samaritan village. Luke is dependent on Mark in singling out this trio. When Jesus restored the young girl to life “he allowed no one to follow him (to the house) except Pete, James and John, the brother of James” (Mark 5:37). In Mark 3:17 we are told that Jesus gave these two the name “Boanerges” meaning “sons of thunder”. It is interesting to ponder that trio – what brought them together, what kind of relationships they had, perhaps the conflicts they experienced. Mark 10:35-45 also tells us of the time James and John – significantly without Peter – sought places in the kingdom at Jesus’ side. (See also Matthew 20:20-28.) Was this some kind of power play? Mark gives it significant space in his Gospel, suggesting it was no small matter.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, we note that 2 Peter 1.16–18 makes no mention of James and John …….
on the mountain – “Jesus leaves the sphere of ordinary events to go to a place of communion with God. In 2 Pet 1:18 it is called “a holy mountain.” It is not named here, as it is not in the other Gospels or in 2 Peter. The tradition that associates the transfiguration with Mount Tabor can only be traced back as far as Origen (Exegetica in Psalmos, Ps 88:13; PG, 12.1548; possibly Ps.-Origen); cf. D. Baldi, ELS, 318–340. Rightly, Conzelmann insists (Theology, 57) that the geographical identification of the mountain does not interest Luke, since it is for him “a place of manifestation.” But it would be more in line with the Lucan emphasis to view the mountain as a place of prayer, as it is in 6:12; cf. 19:29; 22:39. It is a place where Jesus puts himself in contact with the Father.” (Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28). Yale University Press, 2008, 798.)
they saw his glory – this implies an inner quality of Jesus.
Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets.
Luke tells us in the Gospel today that Moses and Elijah appeared and were “speaking of his departure”. The Greek word here translated as “departure” is exodos. We saw this word last week in discussing the Exodus Event. (See the bulletin for the First Sunday in Lent.) We noted that the Exodus Event is more than the “going out” – “departure” – from Egypt. It is also a “going through” the wilderness and an “entering into” the Promised Land. We also noted that this can be a pattern in our lives. We in a healthy life we are constantly “leaving Egypt”, being loved into freedom; there is also something of the wilderness about our days, we must “go through” that wilderness. There is a certain dying-to-live that is part and parcel of human existence, it is never absent. In submitting to this process – Thomas Merton calls it a “paschal rhythm” – we are edging into “the Promised Land”, better known in our Christian Tradition as the Kingdom of God.
Jesus surrendered absolutely to this Exodus in his life. It is central to our faith that he represents the New Exodus Event. Through him, with him and in him, we are individually and communal participants in the New Exodus. This is how we are transformed – John says this in his expression “born again” (John 3:3) and Paul in his expression “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17 & Galatians 6:15).
The consequences are serious if we lose sight of this. If we do forget this central truth, we are likely to become anxiously self-focused as we pursue “holiness”. We tend to emphasize what we must do and lose sight of what God has done. We are constantly faced with our failures and rarely find “the manna” in the wilderness of our days. This way leads to despair. Symptoms of this despair might include self-disgust, anger at one’s inability to overcome certain faults, harshness towards self and/or others, judgmental attitudes and sadness. (Interestingly enough, sadness is listed as one of the seven deadly sins.) This painful situation might also lead one to engage in acts of dishonesty and self-deception in order to lessen the pain of it all. This is not a bad place to start to deal with the despair: Never lie to yourself!
We can understand this despair in terms of the Exodus. The wilderness is a place of death. It will be either death to what stands between us and God and therefore it is a passing over to new life, or it is death to our deepest longings and potential and therefore death to life itself, death to the truth of myself. You do not go into the uncharted wilderness alone. You place yourself in the hands of the One who has the map. Trust grows as trust is given. Surrender leads to victory.