The Real Exodus
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36
“And it happened that while he was praying the appearance of his face changed and his robe shone radiantly white. And behold there were two men speaking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke with him about his Exodus that he was about to complete in Jerusalem.” — Luke 9:29-31
Today we remember that Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured by light on a mountaintop, and that Moses and Elijah appeared in heavenly glory, to speak with him. The writers of these Gospel stories tell them to teach us who Jesus is and who we are. We retell them to remind ourselves of the truth, that Jesus is the incarnate God who brings to us all the blessing of creation and recreation, and that we depend on him absolutely for the created life we enjoy here and the new life we shall enjoy more and more hereafter. It is marvelous is it not that such ultimately important information comes in story and not in syllogism, in action not in algorithm? So let’s pay attention to St Luke our gospeller for today, believe what he tells us and apply it, as we are able in our lives.
Who is Jesus in our story? He is the beloved Son of God whom we are to listen to and obey, before Moses and Elijah. “And a voice sounded from the cloud and said, ‘This is my Son, chosen and beloved, listen to him!” In the religion of those disciples Moses stands for the moral and religious teaching that is mostly in the form of Law, and Elijah stands for the traditions of the prophets, the premier interpreters of the law in ancient Israel, down to the time of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century bc when the scribes began to displace the prophets. Whatever the details however, Luke tells us emphatically that the whole Jewish religion showed up at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, and ceded precedence to Jesus. From that point on we must obey Jesus and not Moses or Elijah.
This is politically very incorrect now because of something called suppersessionism, which is streng verboten because it claims that Jesus supersede his own religion and we must do so too. No more religion as legal demands and distinctions, no more stern excoriations of sinners, as Moses and Elijah practiced, now the new way of Jesus.
I believe that to be the truth and, although I respect the freedom of other religions to be wrong, and practice only persuasion and never coercion, I follow this gospel as it tells us that Jesus teaches the true way. Not even Moses or Elijah is to be given precedence over Jesus.
What does our gospel teach us about ourselves? That we as a species cannot bear the truth and will crush it wherever it raises its gracious head. The original Greek text tells us that what Jesus, Moses and Elijah discussed was the “Exodus” (“exodus” meaning strictly “the way out”) Jesus was to “complete” or “fulfill” in Jerusalem.
We all know that the exodus turned out to be his death, his departure from this life. The Jerusalemites promptly crucified him – (I must point out here that the Jerusalemites included Romans and Jews and that the Roman government pressed by the Jewish priestly aristocracy did the deed, some Gentiles and some Jews together, representing you and me and all the human race, not all the Jewish ethnicity solely and alone.
So the real Exodus is the Cross-; and the Cross is the symbol of a slow torture to the death of a young Jew whose Hebrew name is Joshua, and who never did harm to any creature. He taught love, healed the sick, and honored those whom the religious people despised, especially women, of all kinds. His best friends were Mary Magdalene, possibly the woman taken in adultery whose life he saved by challenging the mob to see themselves as sinners just like her and allow only the sinless to caste the first stone, and Peter’s cousin John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” You can imagine the gossip as he spent time with these two; they were clearly his closest friends; only they were there at the Cross, with his mother and his aunt, the other two Marys.
So this story teaches us that we, the human race, are the kind of creatures who hate the good and torture to death anyone who shames us by revealing our violent hearts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of very few good Germans in the Third Reich, a Protestant pastor who died in prison refusing to leave his fellow prisoners without pastoral care, said, “When Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.” That is why the earliest Christians put such store by martyrdom. Martyr means witness and the only true witness to Jesus is to die with him resisting the violence of this world by taking it into oneself and not passing it on.
Vengeance makes the world go around, and as Christians we are not of this world. Jesus refused the benefits of the vengeance system, to avenge himself, or even to defend himself. He forgave us because we did not know what we were doing. But because of the teaching we have received today from the Gospel now we know and we must concluded that although we are in this world we are not of this world, and if we wish to live here in the belly of the beast we can only live a Martin Luther said, ‘Simul Justus et peccator,” Justified and sinful at the same time, counting not on our own righteousness to justify us before God on that day b but on the immense mercy of Jesus Christ.
The disciples saw that immense mercy as scintillating light one day on a mountaintop in Galilee. The traditional site of that transfiguration of Jesus is Mount Tabor. Our family used to have a country hideaway in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which we called Mount Tabor, where I went for time alone. I hope you all have your Mount Tabors, where you go from time to time to regain perspective, to see Christ as he is in his heavenly splendor, and to see yourself and your way in a new light.
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!