• Is 66:10-14c
• Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
• Gal 6:14-18
• Lk 10:1-12, 17-20
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, and a sense of direction and place is enlivened.
In an analogous, but much more profound way, the Transfiguration of the Lord (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. “At His Transfiguration,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas, “Christ showed his disciples the splendor of His beauty, to which He will shape and color those who are His…”
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 and touched by the glory seen by Peter, James, and John. And while those three apostles kept silent about what they saw (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 seventy-two men (or seventy, depending on the translation), he deliberately patterned his action after the selection of seventy 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” (Num. 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 (Lk. 9:1-6). Some of the Church fathers understood this as an establishment of apostolic authority, whereas the selection of the seventy pointed toward the establishment of the priesthood, for priests are co-workers who assist the bishops in their duties (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 886, 939).
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, even ascetic, 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, 1996), “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” (CCC, 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. “In the word, in the works, and in the presence of Christ, this kingdom was clearly open to the view of men” (Lumen Gentium, 5).
But men will only see it if they turn toward the light of the Lord, humbling 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. 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, which Paul called “the Israel of God.” Within it, a world once dark and confining becomes bright and expansive.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 4, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)