The Transfiguration in St Luke’s Gospel

(This is Neil.) As Fr Robert Imbelli has reminded us, Monday (perhaps today, depending on when you read this) is the Feast of the Transfiguration. It has been so in the West since the 15th century.

I would like to quickly provide you an excerpt from an article from Word & World (21:1 [2001]) by the aptly named Donald J. Luther of the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis. Why is the Transfiguration important? St Luke tells us, “They saw his glory (kabod)” (Lk 9:32), meaning, says Luther, that Peter, James, and John saw the “depths of God’s own being, the heart of the divine.” What is “this center, this heart of the One whom Luke and all the evangelists claim is God’s unique self-revelation”?

If the Transfiguration is a “foretaste of the transfiguration of all creation in Christ” – “nothing less than the anticipation, the premonition, the prolepsis of the luminescent new creation, about to be given birth in the cross and resurrection of the shining Son of Man,” the answer to that question tells us about nothing less than the character of the world that is to come.

Here, then, is a small part of Donald J. Luther’s article on the Transfiguration in St Luke’s Gospel:

Luke alone includes the content of the conversation of Moses and Elijah with Jesus, and thus adds to the tradition his interpretation of his Markan and/or Matthean sources: “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). The Greek for departure is exodos. The text’s wording is odd and ambiguous; but if we turn to another pivotal conversation, between Jesus and two other men, disciples on the road to Emmaus, the word glory reappears. Bracketed between the two appearances of the term is the account of the journey to Jerusalem and the central message of Luke’s story: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The risen Lord says to his slow-of-heart-to-believe disciples, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:26-27). What was glimpsed on the mountain by Peter, James, and John, the glory of the elusive presence that Peter tried to contain, was fully revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The glory of God is the paradoxical opposite of all human glory: light revealed in darkness, triumph through defeat, greatness expressed in lowliness, freedom expressed in obedience, life through death. Jesus entered the way of suffering, and exactly in that way he entered, expressed, revealed the heart, the glory of the self-giving God.

The conversation about the exodus that Jesus will accomplish in Jerusalem is reinforced by the voice from the cloud, a virtual repetition of the voice from heaven at his baptism, with two notable exceptions: At his baptism, Jesus alone hears the voice, “You are my Son” (Luke 3:22). On the mountain, the disciples are addressed, “This is my Son.” And further, Luke changes Matthew and Mark so that the voice calls Jesus “my Chosen” rather than “the Beloved” (Luke 9:35). There is more than an echo here of Isa 42:1, the introduction to the Lord’s servant. Jesus’ baptism is his way of servanthood, the way by which the paradoxical glory of God is revealed as the heart of the self-giving God.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to The Transfiguration in St Luke’s Gospel

  1. Liam says:

    Non-theological background: the feast was made universal in the Roman rite to celebrate the victory of the Hungarians over the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. It’s the titular (as opposed to dedicatory) feast of the Lateran basilica and of any church dedicated to Christ lacking a specific feast.

  2. Neil says:

    Dear Liam,

    Yes, I know. (Perhaps you spotted my circumlocution: “It has been so in the West since the 15th century.”) I just thought that I’d keep the focus elsewhere.

    Thanks, though.


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