Luke’s version of the transfiguration of Jesus is more personal than the accounts of Mark and Matthew. Thus, for example, Luke alone tells us that Jesus was at prayer when this occurred. And he alone informs us concerning the subject of Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah, that they “spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (9: 31).
Moses and Elijah represent the Old Testament which is centered in the exodus of God’s people from the bondage of Egypt. Correspondingly, the exodus of Jesus in Jerusalem, which is his death and resurrection, will be a new exodus initiating a new covenant between God and all the people of the world. This new exodus must happen on the anniversary of the exodus from Egypt and will be the fulfillment of that pivotal event.
The liberation of the Hebrew slaves from the bondage of the Pharoah was the effect of a divine initiative revealing God’s true nature as one who loves and who wishes that all in bondage should be free. This same revelation is at the center of the definitive exodus, which is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Moreover, just as the Passover meal in Israel kept alive the power of the original exodus, so also does the Eucharist of Christians make present among us the love of God as one who offers true and lasting freedom.
The luminous aura that surrounded Jesus on that mountaintop was an external manifestation of his ecstatic recognition that God’s plan of salvation—God’s ultimate exodus—will be brought about by his own loving sacrifice. His loving vulnerability thus becomes the surprising vehicle for God’s power tosave the world. In effect, loving concern for others is revealed as the only power with beneficent and lasting results.
This kind of loving vulnerability does not mean that we are called to be passive or compliant. In fact, this kind of loving is persistent and relentless at the same time that it is gracious and sensitive. For it results from a passionate commitment to the ideal of love received and then offered to others. The only true source of freedom is unselfish love, and the only valid purpose of such freedom is to enable one to love others so that they also may be free.
This equation is clearly implied in the command of God to Israel in Deuteronomy 24:17, where the now liberated Israelites are told to care for the vulnerable ones, for example, the widow, the orphan and the wayfarer. They must do so simply because they were once themselves desperately weak and vulnerable and God loved them into freedom and self-confidence.
The transfigured Jesus represents the full awareness of this incredible wisdom of God. And when the voice from heaven commands us to “listen to him” (9: 35), we are challenged to be transfigured by our own recognition of this wisdom as we become more and more ready to use our freedom so that others also may be free—free from fear and guilt and poverty and pain.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.