Being a disciple of Jesus Christ in a culture that dismisses, or even directly attacks, the Gospel has been a constant challenge. The early Christians, of course, faced every sort of misunderstanding and persecution, often resulting in martrydom. Yet they knew, in the midst of danger and darkness, that such would often be the case. They had not been called to sit on a couch, but to take up a cross, following the example of their Lord.
This call to carry the cross was remarkable enough, but it went even further than bearing the struggles and sharing the shame of Christ. St. Paul, writing to the Galatians, emphatically stated that the cross was not to be seen as a necessary burden but as a badge of honor and a source of joy. “May I never boast,” he wrote, “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” It’s not that Paul thought the material, temporal realm was evil. Rather, the “world” refers to those temptations, forces and things that can keep us from the ultimate good — that is, God.
While Christians should appreciate the inherent and wonderful goodness of creation, we are also to be keenly aware of how easily and often creation can replace the Creator. The good and proper comforts and wonders of this life can become idols. One of the paradoxes of the Catholic faith is that a heavenly perspective allows us to truly and rightly enjoy this life. The light of supernatural faith reveals the true nature of this life and world, chasing away the shadows and guiding us on the Way entrusted to us by Christ.
The Transfiguration of the Lord (Lk 9:28-36) is an important example of this supernatural light. Having seen the glorified Lord, the disciples could see the world in a new light. The Transfiguration gave them a transforming glimpse into the splendor of the kingdom of God. And everything that took place after the Transfiguration, especially the passion and crucifixion, was illuminated by the glory they witnessed. Those three apostles kept silent about what they saw (Lk 9:36), but the evangelist Luke, in recording it years later, wanted his readers to understand the landscape of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem in the light of that glorious event.
That journey included the sending forth of paired disciples to give witness to the Kingdom. Jesus appointed 72 men (or 70, depending on the translation), harkening back to the selection of 70 elders by Moses. The men selected by Moses were called to share in the spirit given to him so that “they may share the burden of the people with you” (Num 11:16-17). Prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus gave the Twelve “power and authority” over demons and illness before sending them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Lk 9:1-6).
That action foreshadowed the priesthood, but it also highlighted the prophetic, missionary character of Christ’s work. The directives given to the disciples were very strict; they were to carry no money or sandals, nor were they to greet anyone along the way. This approach was meant to elicit a response, a decision for or against Jesus and his message. These lambs sent among wolves foreshadowed the countless witnesses and martyrs of the past. The reason for their joy, Jesus said, was not that they were given supernatural authority, but that they shared in the supernatural life: “but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.