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2nd SUNDAY OF LENT (Cycle C)

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095). 

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Divine Revelation
In this Sunday's Old Testament and Gospel readings, the Patriarch Abraham and the Apostles Peter, James and John have a transcendent experience of the Divine. Abraham put his faith in God and he was rewarded.  God made a covenant with Abraham that echoes down through the generations to be fulfilled in his descendant, Jesus Christ.  As a reward for Abraham's faithfulness, God revealed Himself to Abraham by sealing his relationship with God in a covenant.  In a covenant ritual, God passed through the "pieces" of the animals that were sacrificed as He revealed Himself in the form of "a smoking firepot and a flaming torch."  Fire in Scripture is often a symbol of God's divine presence, as in the burning bush experience of Moses and the experience of the first Christian community at Pentecost (Ex 3:1-6; Acts 2:1-4).

In the Gospel reading the Apostles Peter and the brothers James and John Zebedee also experienced a divine revelation to strengthen their faith in preparation for the ordeal they and the other disciples were to face at the climax of Jesus' earthly ministry.  Jesus took them away from the material world and led them up a mountain to reveal to them a divine revelation of Himself.  They see Christ in His glory and experience the mystery of the Trinity: God the Son in His glory, God the Holy Spirit in the cloud, and God the Father's voice from Heaven.

In the Second Reading St. Paul invites the Philippians to follow him as he follows Christ.  St. Paul writes that those who are occupied with "earthly things" must look to heaven for the transforming experience that the faithful are promised when God will give a new form to our bodies just as the Apostles witnessed in the Transfiguration experience.  We are destined to receive a glorious revelation of God as citizens of His heavenly Kingdom. 

In the sacrifice of the Mass, the presiding priest makes the same invitation.  At the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer the priest, like St. Paul in our Second Reading, invites us to let go of our earthly concerns to "lift up our hearts" to heaven, and to experience a divine revelation of Christ in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.  We must let go of our material concerns to fully grasp the spiritual and to sing as the psalmist sings in today's Responsorial Psalm: "I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD... for the LORD is my light and my salvation."

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 (NJB) ~ God's Covenant Promises to Abraham
5 Then taking him outside, he said, 'Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can.  Just so will your descendants be,' he told him.  6 Abram put his faith in Yahweh and this was reckoned to him as uprightness.  7 He then said to him, 'I am Yahweh who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldaeans to give you this country as your possession.'  8 Lord Yahweh,' Abram replied, 'how can I know that I shall possess it?'  9 He said to him, 'Bring me a three-year old heifer, a three-year old she-goat, a three-year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon.'  10 He brought him all these, split the animals down the middle and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not divide.  11 And whenever birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, Abram drove them off.  12 Now, as the sun was on the point of setting, a trance fell on Abram, and a deep dark dread descended on him.  [...].  17 When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking firepot and a flaming torch passing between the animals' pieces.  18 That day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram in these terms: "To your descendants I give this country, from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the River Euphrates, the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."

Verse 5 identifies Abram's encounter with Yahweh as taking place at night when the sky was full of stars.  Using hyperbole, God called Abram/Abraham to step out of his tent and observe the sky clothed in its myriad of stars.   God uses this visible image of the stars as a promise of many descendants that will be repeated to Abram and his descendants five times (Gen 15:5, 22:17; 26:4; 32:12; Dt 10:22).  When God gave human beings a sign it was meant to give comfort and to remind them of God's promises.  It was always a visible sign that they could do like worship on the Sabbath (Ex 31:13), or a sign they could see as in the case of Noah and the covenant sign of God's war bow, the rainbow, suspended in the heavens from horizon to horizon (Gen 9:12-16; for other visible "signs" of God's works see Ex 8:19/23-20/24; 13:9; 31:12-13, 17; Is 7:14; Lk 11:30; Rom 4:11; etc.).   Abram's response to God's renewed promise and clarification of the greatness of the promise was to put his faith in Yahweh and this was reckoned to him as uprightness (verse 6)Yahweh acknowledged that Abram's act of trust and faith in God's promise was an act worthy of reward. 

The New Testament Book of Hebrews teaches: Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen (NJB).  The New American Bible translation reads: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1).  The passage continues: It is for their faith that our ancestors are acknowledged (Heb 11:2; see CCC 146).  In their New Testament letters to the Church, St. Paul and St. James referred to Abram's faith which was credited to him as righteousness in Genesis 15:6 to teach that justification depends on living and active faith.  St. Paul expressed this active faith as the obedience of faith in Romans 1:5 and defined it as faith that is not dependent on works of the Law as stipulated in the old Sinai Covenant (Romans 3:27-28).  In Romans 3:38 St. Paul wrote: faith is what counts, since as we see it, a person is justified by faith and not by doing what the Law tells him to do.  Paul was not saying that our "works," that is the "works of God working through us" (that which is the definition of "active faith") has no value.  He was instead contrasting the Law of the Sinai Covenant, which was engraved on stone and only served to condemn men and women of their sins, with the kind of faith that comes from an interior Law, written on human hearts and which works through love (Gal 5:6).  In Romans 8:2 Paul called this interior Law "the Law of the Holy Spirit."  St. James emphasized that it is this kind of living active faith that is pleasing to God because faith without the deeds of love toward our fellow man and obedience to God is dead faith (Jam 2:17, 26). 

There is no contradiction between St. Paul's teaching and St. James' teaching.  St. Paul was anxious to dismiss the view that a human being can earn salvation without having faith in Christ.  One cannot come to salvation through "works alone;" this would be a condition of self-made sanctity, usurping the sovereignty of God.  We are not just called to be "good;" we are called to be "supernaturally good."  These are not our works or deeds, but these are the works of God working through us.  James taught that salvation cannot come from "faith alone" because faith cannot be separated from deeds (Jm 2:24).  James used Abraham's example of continuing faith, trust, and obedience to God, as expressed in Abraham's ordeal in Genesis chapter 22, as an example of living and active faith: Was not Abraham our father justified by his deed, because he offered his son Isaac on the altar? So you can see that his faith was working together with his deeds; his faith became perfect by what he did.  In this way the Scripture was fulfilled: Abraham put his faith in God, and this was considered as making him upright; and he received the name "friend of God.  St. James taught that works/deeds demonstrate the existence of genuine faith (Jm 2:14-26; CCC 1814-16; 2001).

In Genesis 15:7 Yahweh restated His promise to give Abram and his descendants in Genesis 12:1-3 concerning the land of Canaan by using the introductory formula "I am Yahweh."  This was an introduction common to covenant agreements of ancient Near Eastern kingly proclamations and royal grants.  The words "I am" followed by the name of the king granting the decree in the introduction to the document was meant to establish the unquestionable authority of the proclamation that followed.  Abram had faith in God, but his faith was not perfect or unshakable.  Abram was obedient but his faith needed strengthening and so he asked God for a sign, "Lord Yahweh," Abram replied, "how can I know that I shall possess it?"(verse 8).

 Faith in God, like salvation and justification, is an on-going process not a one-time event (CCC 161-62, 166; 1987-95).  In Hebrews the inspired writer recorded that Abraham was justified by his faith when he set out for Canaan (Heb 11:8), and he also says in Genesis 15:6 Abraham's faith was reckoned as righteous because he put his faith in God, and again Abraham's faith was counted as righteousness in Genesis 22 when he offered up his son, Isaac (Heb 11:17-19).  Abraham's growing faith, strengthened in his faith journey, taught him to trust God to the point that he was able to pass the test of faith when God commanded him to offer his beloved son Isaac in sacrifice (Gen 22).

In response to Abram's request, Yahweh sealed the covenant promise with a very bizarre sacrificial ritual in which Abram was to sacrifice his wealth in animals. He was to bring three of five different animals: cattle, sheep, goats, pigeons, and turtle-doves.  Three of the kinds of sacrificed animals (the cattle, sheep, and goats) Abram was commanded to split down the middle, placing each half opposite the other.  He was to guard the sacrifice until sundown.  These five kinds of animals were to become the only animals that could be offered in sacrifice to Yahweh in the sacrificial system of the Sinai Covenant (Lev 1:2, 14).  While the larger animals were to be skinned and the carcasses cut into pieces (Lev 1:6) the birds were to be offered whole, but split down the middle without separating the halves (Lev 1:14-17).  The pigeon and the turtle dove will be the "poor man's sacrifice"—this is sacrifice that Mary and Joseph offered when Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem when he was a baby 40 days old (Lk 2:22-24). 

Sundown was the beginning of the next day therefore nearly 24 hours have passed since God first called Abram from his tent when Abram's vision began (Gen 15:5).  He killed the animals the next day, butchering the large animals by cutting them in half—a feat that must have taken him all day.  The birds were not cut in half.  This was a ritual of "cutting a covenant" that became an established norm, with the understanding that he who broke the covenant was to fall to the same fate as the severed animals.  The 6th century BC prophet Jeremiah mentioned such a ritual in speaking for Yahweh concerning those who had broken covenant with Him: As for the people who have broken my covenant, who have not observed the terms of the covenant which they made before me, I shall treat them like the calf that people cut in two to pass between its pieces (Jer 34:18).  The smell of the dead meat attracted birds of prey, which Abram drove off (verse 11).  In this part of the narrative the daylight was fading and night was coming.  As Abram fell into a deep sleep, reminiscent of Adam's deep sleep on the sixth day of Creation (Gen 2:21), Yahweh gave Abram a prophecy concerning the descendants Yahweh promised him (Gen 15:12-16).

Genesis 15:12-16: Now, as the sun was on the point of setting, a trance fell on Abram, and a deep dark dread descended on him.  13 Then Yahweh said to Abram, "Know this for certain, that your descendants will be exiles in a land not their own, and be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years.  14 But I shall bring judgment on the nation that enslaves them and after this they will leave, with many possessions.  15 For your part, you will join your ancestors in peace; you will be buried at a happy old age.  16 In the fourth generation they will come back here, for until then the iniquity of the Amorites will not have reached its full extent." 
God put Abram into a death-like sleep similar to Adam's death-like state when He created Eve (Gen 2:21).  Abram's death-like state, necessary in this act of covenant formation, was symbolic of Christ's death on the Cross which was a necessary action in God's plan for securing a New Covenant for the people of God and the salvation-kingdom that would become mankind's vehicle of salvation.  Christ's death on the Cross, a necessary act to secure His New Covenant bride, the Church, was also prefigured in Adam's death-like state necessary to receive his bride, Eve.  Biblical scholars have noted the typological connection between Abram and Christ in this passage, writing that Abram's "symbolic actions [are] prophetic of the sacrificial act of obedience of the Messiah, the meritorious work that secured the ultimate salvation-kingdom for God's people of all times.  In Genesis 15 it was "the oath-passage of the Lord through the way of death" (M. Kline, Kingdom Prologue, page 326).  The prophet Daniel also experienced a death like sleep connected with a divine revelation in Daniel 8:18 and 10:9.

The prophecy in verses 13-16 were fulfilled at the time of Abram's great grandson Joseph son of Abram's grandson Jacob (renamed Israel) and during the Exodus experience:

*The prophecy of the four hundred years and the return to Canaan four generations after entering Egypt from the time of Jacob/ Israel is a rounded number with each generation spanning 100 years = (1) Levi, son of Jacob/Israel; (2) Kohath, grandson; (3) Amran, great-grandson; (4) Moses, great-great-grandson of Jacob/Israel.  A more precise number of 430 years is given in Exodus 12:40-41; Acts 7:6, 13:20, and Galatians 3:17

In this covenant ritual God passed between the parts of the sacrificed animals, binding Himself by oath to the covenant with Abram.   Yahweh's presence in this ritual is manifested by the smoking fire-pot and the flaming torch passing between the animal pieces is in essence Yahweh Himself swearing an oath of fidelity to the covenant. The word used in Hebrew for "firepot" is tannur, which is an archaic term in Hebrew for "oven."  It is an oven in the sense of a brazier of the sort used for burning incense the liturgical services of the Sinai Covenant and in a Catholic Mass. The smoking firepot and flaming torch represents Yahweh's presence in the same way the burning bush revealed God's presence to Moses (Ex 3:2), the pillar cloud and pillar of fire revealed God's presence to the children of Israel in the Exodus experience (Ex 13:21), and in the cloud on the summit of Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:16; 24:15-16) that was a manifestation of the Glory Cloud, in Hebrew the Shekinah (Ex 16:10; 19:9; 34:5; 40:34-38; Lev 16:2; Num 19:15-22; etc.). The purpose of the cutting of the animals becomes clear in the words used in Genesis 15:18: Yahweh made (krt = literally "cut") a covenant with Abram...  The Hebrew verb krt, which is usually translated as "made" or "concluded," in Hebrew literally means "to cut."  A covenant with Abram was literally and symbolically "cut"—a covenant sealed in blood and in which the covenant participants bound themselves by oath to suffer the same death as the animals if either party did not fulfill the promises of the covenant (Jer 34:18).  Oddly, it is only God who binds Himself as responsible for keeping this perpetual covenant.  It is an act that only makes sense in the context of Christ's sacrifice on the altar of the Cross.

In this bizarre scene the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch become the legs of God, walking the valley of death between the split bodies of the dead animals and taking the covenant curse upon Himself to keep the covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  God's action prefigures the journey of Christ, taking the covenant curse upon Himself, as He walked through the valley of death to offer Himself up on the altar of the Cross, taking the curses of past covenants upon Himself as He offered Himself as the sacrifice that would establish the New Covenant with Abraham's descendants and all mankind.

In Genesis 15:8 Abram asked God: How can I know that I shall possess it?  In Genesis 15:18-21 God answered that question by telling Abram that this covenant will have a human historical continuity and a cultural tradition that is to be transmitted from generation to generation.  Yahweh was telling Abram that He was establishing a relationship not just with an individual but with a nation. The extent of the land promised was from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates River, with dominion over all the people who lived between these two rivers.  This is covenant promise #1: the land repeated from God's first promises to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3. Details on the extent of Israel's boundaries are also given in Numbers 34:1-15; Joshua 14:1-21:45; and Ezekiel 47:13-21.

The Abrahamic Covenant is the basis of all future covenants with Israel.  It is also the basis of the covenant with the "new Israel," the universal New Covenant Kingdom of Jesus Christ, in which all the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled:

For a list of the seven God-ordained covenants in the Old Testament and the eighth new and eternal covenant in Christ Jesus in the New Testament see the chart Yahweh's 8 Covenants.

Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14 ~ Yahweh is Salvation
The Response is: "The Lord is my light and my salvation."
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?  The LORD is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid?
7 Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me.  8 Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
9 Your presence, O LORD, I seek.  Hide not your face from me; do not in anger repel your servant.  You are my helper: cast me not off.
13 I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living.  14 Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.

This psalm is attributed to David.  The psalmist celebrates his visit to Yahweh's Temple in Jerusalem by proclaiming his joy in his Lord and the confidence that God is his "light," guiding him on the path to "salvation."  As long as he has the Lord as his refuge, he knows that he has nothing to fear (verse 1).  The psalmist celebrates the joy and peace he obtains through worship in Yahweh's Temple.  He proclaims that his life is safe in the LORD by making two assertions followed by two questions (verse 1):

  1. The LORD is my light and my salvation; of whom should I fear?
  2. The LORD is my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid?

Also notice that the psalmist gives three definitions of the LORD in verse 1: light, salvation, and life's refuge. 

7 Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call; have pity on me and answer me.  8 Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
The psalmist makes three petitions in verse 7: hear his call, have pity, and answer his call.  These petitions, spoken aloud, are a plea from the heart of the psalmist who yearns for an intimate relationship with the Lord that will allow him to see the face of God (verse 4).  He both "speaks" from the heart of his faith in the Lord and "seeks" his divine presence.  Commenting on this psalm, St. Augustine wrote: "In the most hidden place, where only you may hear it, my heart says to you: 'Lord, I seek your face'; and I will continue in this search, without ever taking rest, so that I may love you freely, for I will never find anything more precious than your face" (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 26.8).  The disciples of Jesus realized that hope of the psalmist as they walked with God the Son in His earthly ministry.  As Christians we have the same hope that one day, if we persevere in faith, that we too will indeed "see the face of God" in the heavenly Temple.

The psalmist also professes his confidence that God will save him from spiritual death and that one day he will see the Lord in the "land of the living" that is the abode of God in Heaven (verse 13).  In the meantime, he encourages others who have faith in God to have courage and be patient as they "wait for Yahweh" in faith for the promised day of salvation (verse 14).

The confidence contained in the words "The LORD is my light" can be read by Christians in connection with Jesus' declaration "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12; also see Jn 1:9).  The phrase "The LORD is my light and my salvation" (verse 1) is read by Christians as a connection to Jesus' words spoken in the Jerusalem Temple when He proclaimed: "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12).  The risen Christ also fulfills the hope in verse 13 for "the land of the living" since it is heaven that is the true Sanctuary of God that Jesus has made possible for all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior (CCC 1026).

Philippians 3:17-4:1 ~ Citizenship in Heaven
17 Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us.  18 For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.  19 Their end is destruction.  Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their "shame."  20 Their minds are occupied with earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  21 He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.  4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my join and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.

St. Paul uses the example of his own life and others in their service to the Gospel to encourage the Christians of Philippi to persist in a moral and spiritual life (verse 17).  In contrast he points to the bad example of those who teach false doctrines or abuse their Christian freedom to lead a life immersed in sins of the flesh, becoming "enemies of the cross of Christ."   Those people "glory in their shame" by taking pride in their sinful behavior, and the result will be that they doom themselves to destruction (verses 18-19). 

In verses 20-21 St. Paul reminds the faithful that they are destined to become "citizens of Heaven."  Their life on earth, living in the midst of sin, is only temporary.  Concerning these verses St. Augustine wrote: "It is nature flawed by sin that begets all the citizens of the earthly city, whereas it is grace alone which frees nature from sin, which begets citizens of the heavenly city" (The City of God, 15.2).  Paul's message is that Christians are true "citizens of heaven" because Heaven is the glorious destiny God has planned for them.  It is appropriate for them, as the children of a righteous God who are awaiting the return of Christ in glory, to live in righteousness.  Therefore, says Paul in 4:1, we have every reason for joy because of the knowledge that Christ's resurrection is going to be the cause of our own resurrection, and in the meantime it is our obligation to "stand firm" in the Lord!

Luke 9:28-36 ~ The Transfiguration of the Christ
28 About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.  29 While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  30 And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.  32 Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.  33 As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  But he did not know what he was saying.  34 While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.  35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."  36 After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.  They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

The disciples and Apostles must have been frightened and discouraged after Jesus' first prediction of His death in Luke 9:22.  To give them a vision to grasp in their darkest hour, when the prediction of His death is fulfilled, Jesus took three Apostles—Peter and the brothers James and John Zebedee—up a mountain to witness a manifestation of His glory that confirms He is the Son of God and that He will come again in glory when the suffering He predicted has been fulfilled.  These three Apostles will also be taken apart from the others when Jesus faces His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Don't miss the significance attached to the location of this experience on a mountain.  Mighty works/revelations of God often took place on mountains, including the Theophany of God on Mt. Sinai (see Gen 22:2, 11; Ex 19:16-20; 1 Kng 18:19-39; 19:11-18; 1 Chr 21:15-17; 2 Chr 3:1; and Mt 5:1-2).  As the new Moses, Jesus ascends the mountain—not to find a revelation of God but to give a revelation of God the Son to His three Apostles.  Verse 1 discloses that it was eight days after Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah and the first prediction of His Passion that they went up "the mountain to pray."  Matthew and Mark's Gospels call it a "high mountain" that they reach six days after the first prediction of His Passion (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2).  Some scholars have tried to reconcile the discrepancy by suggested that it was a six day journey from Caesarea Philippi to the mountain and on the eighth day they ascended.  Some of the Fathers of the Church interpret the "eighth day" to suggest a symbolic connection to Jesus' resurrected glory on the "eighth day," the day after the seventh day Sabbath (Lk 23:56; 24:1-7).

Luke 9:29 While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. 
The change in the appearance of Jesus' face recalls the description of Moses' radiant face after being in the presence of God in Exodus 34:29-35.  In St. Matthew's account, he describes Jesus' face as radiant and his garment as "as white as light" (Mt 17:2).  This description also recalls Daniel's vision of the "man" dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist, whose body was like chrysolite, his face shone like lightening, his eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and feet looked like burnished bronze, and his voice sounded like the roar of a multitude (Dan 10:5-6).  The divine personage the 6th century BC prophet Daniel saw may have been an angel or the pre-Incarnate Christ.  Daniel's vision is very much like the vision St. John saw of the glorified Jesus in Revelation 1:12-15.

Luke 9:30-31 And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. 
Moses and Elijah also appeared in transcendent glory and discussed with Jesus the coming hour of His "exodus" from Jerusalem (Lk 9:30-31).  Do not miss the significance of the Greek word "exodus" (literal word in the Greek text) in verse 31 in the discussion of Jesus' departure (meaning of the word "exodus") from Jerusalem. Moses and Elijah are discussing with Jesus the events of His death, burial, Resurrection and Ascension He will make in His "exodus" (departure) from His earthly existence to the heavenly Kingdom.

The disciples and Apostles knew Jesus in His human form, but in the encounter on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus revealed Himself in His divine glory in the presence of the Old Covenant Law-giver and liberator, Moses, and the prophet Elijah.  In the epiphany on the Mt. of Transfiguration, the three Apostles witnessed the coming together of the Old and New Covenants with Christ as the beginning and the end of divine revelation.  The Old Covenant Church was represented by Moses and Elijah who embodied the Law and the prophets of the old Israel, and the New Covenant was represented by Peter, James, and John who embodied the hierarchy of the new Israel, the Church of the people of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth (CCC 751-52).  It was a vision of the supernatural the Apostles would need to strengthen themselves and their brother disciples in the covenant ordeal they were to face in the final year of Jesus' ministry. 

Luke 9:33  As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  But he did not know what he was saying. 
John's Gospel does not mention the Transfiguration.  St. John rarely repeats what has been sufficiently covered in the Synoptic Gospels, but he does mention in the second year of Jesus' ministry (which began in the feeding of the 5 thousand) that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the pilgrim feast of Sukkoth, known in English as the Feast of Booths/Shelters or Tabernacles (Jn 7:1-2, 10).  The covenant obligations for the festival are given in Leviticus 23:33-43.  In Leviticus 23:42 God commanded: During this week every native Israelite among you shall dwell in booths, that your descendants may realize that, when I led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, I made them dwell in booths, I, the LORD am your God." The festival lasted a significant eight days (Lev 23:33, 39; Num 29:12, 35).

Perhaps Peter made the suggestion to build booths because the event of the Transfiguration took place near the time of the festival of Booths/Tabernacles. If this is the case, what has Peter suggested but perhaps has not completely understood?  Notice that Jesus does not rebuke Peter.  Perhaps Peter has suggested they do not need to keep the Old Covenant feast in Jerusalem to offer worship in the presence of God in the Jerusalem Temple when they can worship God the Son on the mountain in the presence of the great prophets.  But he probably doesn't fully realize that the old covenant order is coming to an end and its commands and prohibitions will no longer be binding.

When Jesus' work in fulfilling the Law is completed, as He promised in Matthew 5:18 and will announce in inaugurating the New Covenant at the Last Supper (Lk 22:19-20) and the fulfillment/finish of the Old Covenant from the Cross (Jn 19:30), the moral law will remain but the religious commands and prohibitions will be transformed into New Covenant worship and feasts (Heb 8:13; 9:11-15; 10:11-18).

Luke 9:34-36 While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over [overshadowed] them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.  35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."  36 After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.  They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
The voice is the same voice that was heard when Jesus was baptized (Lk 3:22).  Notice how the Most Holy Trinity is manifested in this event:

The presence of God the Holy Spirit has been manifested in a cloud in both the Old and New Testaments:

  1. The Pillar of Cloud that led the children of Israel on the Exodus journey (Ex 13:21-22).
  2. In the overshadowing cloud that took possession of the desert Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:34).
  3. The cloud that filled the newly dedicated Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (1 Kng 8:10-14; 2 Chr 5:13-14).
  4. The cloud that overshadowed the Virgin Mary at the moment of the Incarnation of the Christ (Lk 1:35).
  5. The overshadowing cloud at the Transfiguration (Lk 9:34).

The word for the shadow of the cloud cast over them is episkiazo; it is the same word found in the account of the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation (Lk 1:35); and it is the same word that is used in the Greek translation of Exodus when God's Spirit overshadowed the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:34).  A cloud is a frequent vehicle for the manifestation of God's presence in Scripture (for some additional examples see Ex 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-16; 33:9, 34:5; 2 Mac 2:8; Acts 1:9; Rev 11:12; 14:14).

Do not miss that this significant event in which Jesus is "transfigured" is tied both in time and meaning to the event of Peter's confession of the Christ as the Messiah and the prediction of His coming Passion.  The pronouncement of the Divine Voice, "this is my beloved Son," is confirmation of Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah and "listen to Him" is a warning to listen to Jesus' announcement of His coming Passion and to cooperate in His mission.  The command of the Divine Voice of God from heaven, "Listen to Him," is also a confirmation that Jesus is the prophet like Moses that God promised the people in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  That prophecy ends with a promise and a command: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command.  If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it (Dt 18:18-19 NJB).

Luke 9:36 After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.  They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
Like the children of Israel who heard the voice of God in the Theophany at Sinai (Ex 20:18), and like the prophet Daniel who experienced a divine appearance (Dan 9:15-18; 10:7-9), the three Apostles are amazed at what they experienced.  "At that time" they did not tell anyone but shared their experience later.  Peter wrote about the Transfiguration years later in a letter to the universal Church: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him for the majestic glory, "This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased."  We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Pt 1:16-18).

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

Catechism references:
Genesis 15:5-6 (CCC 762); 15:5 (CCC 146, 288); 15:6 (CCC 146, 2571)
Psalm 27:8 (CCC 2730)
Philippians 3:20 (CCC 1003, 2796); 3:21 (CCC 556, 999)
Luke 9:28 (CCC 2600); 9:30-35 (CCC 2585); 9:31 (CCC 554, 1151); 9:33 (CCC 556); 9:34-35 (CCC 659, 697); 9:35 (CCC 516, 554)