Transfiguration of the Son of Man

Jesus often refers to Himself as the Son of Man. It happens so often in each and every one of the Gospel accounts that it almost becomes cliche and, because of its pure saturation in Scripture, I would wager it often gets overlooked. The term Son of Man is in fact incredibly loaded and carries with it both a simple, mortal account and a complex, celestial account that are both equally rooted in the Old Testament.

There are many references to Son of Man throughout the Old Testament. However there are two contexts in which the title or phrase is used. In one context the phrase means mortal, or “mere man” (Num 23:1; Job 25:6; Ps 8:4; Sir 17:30). In this sense, when Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man, He may very well be calling Himself a human, the son of another human and therefore a human Himself. The problem with just that interpretation is that Jesus often linked His use of the term Son of Man with powerful divine prerogatives granted to Him. As the Son of Man, Jesus claims authority to forgive sins (Mk 2:10), suspend the Sabbath (Mk 2:28), judge men for their deeds (Jn 5:27) and even claims to have come down to Earth from Heaven (Jn 3:31). These are important claims to authority that are purposefully linked to Jesus being the Son of Man, and the reason is present within the Book of Daniel.

In chapter 7, the prophet Daniel spends a great deal of time and words imparting a jarring vision that he had while sleeping. In his dream, a series of beasts walk out of the sea in succession. These monsters, Daniel tells us, represent the pagan empires who are hostile to Israel. The most terrible and largest of these beasts is the fourth, who rises from the sea and begins to trample on the “saints of the Most High” (Dan 7:25). The vision suddenly cuts to a Heavenly court. A being “like a son of man” is escorted into the courtroom on the clouds of Heaven (Dan 7:13). During the trial, the son of man is deemed worthy and is given a kingdom that is unmatched in size and prestige to any in history. In addition to the coronation, the fourth beast is condemned by the court and its dominions are handed over to the son of man and the Saints of God (Dan 7:26-27).

In this version of the Son of Man, we see a being in the likeness of a human being granted authority over all of creation, including the dominions of the fourth beast. This is where Jesus anchors His claims to divine authority and it is why He is clear in linking the Son of Man with this divine majesty and power.

What does this have to do with the Transfiguration?

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. (Luke 9:28-29)

When Jesus takes the three up the mountain and is transfigured before them, His appearance and His being do not change outside of the confines of his manhood. Jesus is the Son of Man– God and human— in the same way that the term Son of Man has a meaning that is both humble and divinely profound. And when Jesus is transfigured to reveal His Glory and His favour with God, He remains human. We are told of how His being was altered but not so much that He was no longer recognizable to His friends. And neither were Moses or Elijah who came to join Jesus in His Glory. Jesus glorifies the human body in the same manner as He glorifies His Father as the Son of Man.

The Son of Man is a great mystery contained within the Catholic deposit of faith. But just because it is mystery does not mean that it lacks meaning and purpose sustained throughout the entire Gospels and Scripture.

Mary, Ark of the Covenant

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The Gospel according to Saint Luke tells us more about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, than any other book of the New Testament. The majority of this is a stringing of scripture from Israel into the infancy story of Christ in the first few chapters of the Gospel. The narrative itself is a delightfully layered perspective that hinges itself upon the founding of the nations of Israel with David’s efforts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem which is capture in 2 Samuel.

There are subtle but significant links between Mary’s Visitation with Elizabeth and David’s efforts to move the Ark of the Covenant. For example, Luke writes that Mary “arose and went” to the Judean hill country to visit her family (1:39) which echos exactly what Samuel writes about how David “arose and went” into the exactly same region centuries before to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:2). When Elizabeth sees Mary as she arrives she is struck with the same awe and fear that David felt upon seeing the Ark of the Covenant for the first time. The joy is echoed further when Elizabeth’s baby dances inside her similar to how David danced around the Ark (2 Sam 6:16) when she is in the presence of Mary carrying Jesus. And lastly, Luke tells us how Mary stayed for “three months” (1:40 56) with Zechariah’s family recollecting how the Ark of the Covenant was temporarily housed in the “house of Obed-edom” for a waiting period of “three months” (2 Sam 6:11). All together these themes form the basis of Mary being a sacred vessel which is housing God Himself, which is exactly the storyline present in David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and uniting the tribes of Israel.

There is another link that Luke draws from the Book of Chronicles that alludes to his own Greek upbringing. When Elizabeth bursts into a joyful cry at the presence of Mary and her Child, Luke uses the Greek term for “exclaimed,” which on its own seems entirely innocuous. Except that in the Greek manuscripts of Old Testament writings, the Greek term is only used five times and is never used again in any New Testament writing. And the only five times it is found in the OT are about stories concerning the Ark of the Covenant. Luke is drawing a direct parallel between Mary, the Mother of God, and the Ark of the Covenant using a convenient literary device that would have almost certainly been obvious to his intended audience.

Luke provides us with a vision of Mary with clarity unprecedented within the entire New Testament. By linking Mary early in his Gospel with the Ark of the Covenant, Luke does not shy away from the gravity of importance imparted upon the story he about to tell. Again, as a literary genius, and man with a critical scientific eye, Luke systematically builds a case for Jesus as the Messiah and he begins his opening remarks with a powerful reach into the Holy Scriptures of Israel to establish the foundation and makes obvious that Mary is in fact the New Ark of the New Covenant.

The Gospel according to Saint Luke

Luke (Greek: Loukan) was a physician and companion of the Apostle Paul. Early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria assert Luke’s authorship of the third Gospel book account of Jesus Christ. There is very little reason to doubt Luke’s authorship of this Gospel. In addition to writing the Gospel, Luke is ascribed authorship of the Acts of the Apostles and together these books make up what scholars refer to as Luke-Acts; a two part account of the life of Christ and the founding of His Holy Church. Together the two books comprise over one quarter of the entire New Testament, making Luke the largest single contributor to the NT. Luke opens his Gospel by telling the person he has dedicated the writings to, that he wishes to provide an “orderly account” (1:3) of the life of Jesus, and that is just what we get with this Gospel.

Traditionally, through Luke’s writings and what little is known about his life, scholars have described him as being a Gentile akin to Paul but in recent times he has been theorized as being a Hellenistic Jew, which would have separated him from his Temple ordinance following brethren in the apostles of Christ. Regardless of his ethnic background, Luke presents an exacting account of the life of Christ which is beautifully structured and which he claims to have “followed all things closely” that the reader “may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (1:3)

Date

There is no scholarly consensus on when Luke’s Gospel was composed. The dates among scholars range from 60-80 AD but for many reasons it appears the earlier date range would be more appropriate. This is not so much because of what Luke says in his Gospel and Acts but what he doesn’t mention– his silence on certain issues speaks louder than his words. For example,

  • Acts ends abruptly after Paul is in prison around 62 AD, but does not speak of his trial or his subsequent martyrdom.
  • Luke writes in Acts to Christianity’s relationship with Rome, he does not mention the well documented Roman persecutions which started in mid-60 AD.
  • And in neither the Gospel or the Acts of the Apostles is there mention of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD.

These are a strong indication that Luke’s Gospel and the Book of Acts were written in the early 60s AD, before any of these events had happened.

Audience

Luke addressed his Gospel and subsequent Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus who was possibly a Roman official who agreed to finance the works. The name means friend of God or more closely beloved by God or loving God. In that sense, it is also possible that Theophilus is not a single person and may be a group of early Christians involved in funding the works, or Luke could be addressing a wider audience of Christians. At any rate, there is no doubt that Luke intended for his Gospel and Acts to be read beyond the patronage of Theophilus and it did spread into the wider Mediterranean world with particular impact among Gentile Christians. Luke often removes Semitic words or outright replaces them with their Greek equivalent and the entire Greek text is written in a form and style of Greek that alludes to his higher education and formation in Greek culture. It is also clear in the literary devices employed by Luke, that he assumes his reader will have a clear and ready understanding of the Scriptures of Israel. In this sense, reading the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles is much like watching a television show with many references to popular culture and outside stories/jokes that requires the viewer to know and understand these tropes and jokes in order to fully appreciate the richness of the show and the writing.

Structure

Luke’s Gospel is logically arranged. Generally, the Gospel follows the similar storyline as Matthew and Mark. He opens with a traditional prologue and then with the Infancy Narrative, followed by Jesus’ preparations for Ministry, and then His Galilean Ministry into the Journey to Jerusalem, the Passion Week Narratives including the crucifixion and finally ending with the Resurrection and Ascension.

Themes

Luke has three major themes through his Gospel:

  • The Salvation of Israel. Luke anchors his Gospel in the tradition of Israel and mimics the founding of the nation of Israel during the entire Infancy Narrative of Christ. He thus clearly identifies Jesus as the Messiah who comes in the line of David to reunite the scattered tribes of Israel by gathering them into his Kingdom.
  • The Salvation of the Nations. The forgiveness that Jesus offers to the people of Israel is extended to the Gentiles as well according to Luke, and early in his Gospel we hear Simeon calling Jesus “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” (2:32). John the Baptist, channeling Isaiah, says that “all flesh” can now look to Christ for salvation (3:6). And Jesus tells his apostles that salvation must be carried “to all nations” (24:27).
  • The Salvation of the Lowly. Luke emphasizes a number of statements made by Jesus concerning outcasts, the poor and disreputable among us. Women in particular are showcased throughout Luke’s Gospel despite their relative low social standing in that time period.

In addition to his three themes, Luke brings the curious eye of a scientific man to his Gospel account. While there was certainly no such thing as the scientific method at this time, there was a methodology of study that Luke would have undoubtedly been exposed to as a Greek pupil. Of all of the Gospel writers, Luke presents the most “western” account of Jesus’ life, ministry and early church because he writes in the style and authority of a learned professional with a critical eye. His descriptions of the sick and elderly through out his entire account reveal his medical acumen and curiosity. And his literary style is robust and clear in a manner that allows any reader to come back time and time again to his Gospel and Acts to dive ever more deeper into the alliterations, allegories and beautiful rhetorical devices employed throughout these stalwart Biblical books. Both the substance and the style of the Gospel according to Saint Luke come together to articulate the sole purpose of the document giving us an “orderly account” of the life of Christ, His ministry and His conquering of sin and death.