Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Prayer and the Transfiguration

Luke places the event of the transfiguration within the context of regular prayer on the mountain. The appearance of his face changed indicates that Jesus was transfigured while he was praying. In describing the Transfiguration only Luke indicates that Jesus, Moses and Elijah appeared together in glory.[i]

For years, translators wished to make Luke 9:35 agree with a similar verse in Matthew and Mark. However, Luke's verse in the original Greek reads: "This is my Son, the Elect One (from the Greek ho eklelegmenos, lit., "the elect one"): hear him." The "Elect One" is a most significant term (found fourteen times) in the Book of Enoch. The Book of Enoch contains numerous descriptions of the Elect One who should "sit upon the throne of glory" and the Elect One who should "dwell in the midst of them."

John Paul Heil in his book, The Transfiguration of Jesus[ii], emphasizes the rich Old Testament heritage shaping both the content and reception of the transfiguration story. The experience of a "pivotal mandatory epiphany" by Balaam (Num 22:31-35), Joshua (Josh 5:13-15), and Heliodorus (2 Macc 3:22-34) provides the principal model for characterizing the transfiguration as an extraordinary "epiphany" of heavenly beings on earth (Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) culminating in a divine "mandatory" announcement to Peter, James, and John: "Listen to him!"

Heil offers a new proposal concerning the symbolic significance of the appearance by Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah represent not so much law-giving and prophetic prototypes for Jesus as figures mysteriously transported or "assumed" into heaven in marked contrast to Jesus, who "will attain [permanent] heavenly glory only after being unjustly put to death by his people and raised from the dead by his heavenly Father."

Heil demonstrates the pivotal function of the transfiguration scene in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, by tracking key links with antecedent and subsequent material.
Recently Lee Dahn proposed that the two men who appeared in the Lucan tomb on the first Easter morning were none other than Elijah and Moses who of course appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration.

The Lucan Jesus prepares his disciples, Peter, John and James, for the events that are about to transpire preparing them concerning his “departure” linking Luke’s understanding of the event to prayer and the passion. This proper understanding is confirmed by the fact that the voice from heaven echoes the voice of the baptism that was also preceded by Jesus in prayer and was an allusion to Jesus’ suffering and death.

[i]. Lk. 9:28-36; cf. Mt. 17:1-8 and Mk. 9:2-13.
[ii] The Transfiguration of Jesus: Narrative Meaning and Function of Mark 9:2-8, Mat 17:1-8, and Luke 9:28-36 (AnBib 144; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 2000).

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