Anyone who has seen a sunrise from a viewpoint overlooking a grand vista knows the wonder of seeing the contours of the earth revealed as the light washes over the landscape and chases away the shadows. A world once dark and confining becomes bright and expansive.
In an analogous, but much more profound way, the Transfiguration of the Lord (see Lk 9:28-36) was the light that revealed to the disciples a world bright and expansive. It gave them a brief but life-changing glimpse into the splendor of the kingdom of God.
What does this have to do with today’s Gospel? A great deal, for everything that happened after the Transfiguration and led up to Christ’s passion was illuminated by the glory seen by Peter, James and John. And while those three kept silent about what they saw (see Lk 9:36), the Evangelist Luke wanted his readers to understand the landscape of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem in the light of that glorious event.
When Jesus appointed 72 men, he deliberately patterned his action after the selection of 70 elders by Moses. Those men were meant to share in the spirit given to Moses so that, as God told Moses, “they may share the burden of the people with you” (Nm 11:16-17). Earlier, Jesus had given the Twelve “power and authority” over demons and illness, then sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (see Lk 9:1-6). Some Church Fathers understood this as an establishment of apostolic authority, whereas the selection of the 72 pointed toward the establishment of the priesthood.
But this action not only foreshadowed the priesthood, it revealed even further the prophetic, missionary character of Jesus’ work. Sent to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of the God, the disciples were given strict directives: carry no money, carry no sandals, greet no one along the way. They were exhorted to elicit a response, a decision for or against Jesus and his message. “Jesus’ own understanding of his and his followers’ identity,” explains N.T. Wright in “Jesus and the Victory of God” (Fortress Press, $41), “went far beyond the picture of a teacher of miscellaneous truths or maxims. The corporate identity of the new movement belonged firmly within the world of Jewish eschatological expectations.”
The kingdom of God is the fulfillment of those expectations about the meaning of history and God’s plan for mankind — and the Church is “the seed and beginning of this kingdom” (Catechism, Nos. 567, 669). Christ established the Kingdom by his preaching and his passion, and he entrusted the message of the Kingdom to the Twelve and to the Church so it would grow and so it could be seen for those with eyes to see.
But men will only see it if they turn toward the light of the Lord, humbly gazing, if you will, upon the Transfiguration so they might be transformed. This transformation, St. Paul told the Galatians, comes by the way of “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which brings about a new creation. St. Paul’s blessing — “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule” — was a direct continuation of the peace granted to those who accepted the disciples sent forth by Jesus: “Peace to this household.”
And every household that accepts Jesus is taken into the household of God, the Church. Within it, a world once dark and confining becomes bright and expansive.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.