Episode 20 – The Gospel of Luke – Chapter 9 Part 2
Luke 9: “Son of God Transfigured”
Luke chapter 9 begins with the mission of the twelve Apostles, whom Jesus gave power to cure disease and authority over all demons. They were instructed to take nothing for their journey and to “shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against” anyone who did not welcome them. To “shake off the dust” was a Hebrew idiom for Jews to separate themselves from the Gentiles. So in this context, Jesus was telling the Apostles to separate themselves from the Jews who rejected the Gospel. In a similar passage, Matthew took things a step further, warning “that it shall be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town (Mt 10:15).” Knowing that Jesus gave the Apostles power over all demons helps us understand why Jesus chastised the disciples for their lack of faith when they could not drive out a demon from a boy (Luke 9:40-41).
The chapter continues with Herod’s perplexity. Herod knew that John the Baptist was dead, yet he heard some thought that John had been raised from the dead or that Elijah had returned. These stories led to Herod’s desire to meet Jesus, which finally occurs during the Passion. We learn from Josephus that John was imprisoned for two years prior to his execution at Machaerus, a Herodian fortress on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. John was imprisoned for criticizing Herod Antipas for his unlawful marriage to Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Phillip. Just as the evil Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah the prophet, so too did Herodias want to kill John the Baptist, the new Elijah.
The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle (other than the Resurrection) that is found in all four Gospels. Luke was the only Gospel writer who specified that Bethsaida was the location of this miracle. Bethsaida was located at the inflow of the Jordan River into the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida was the home town of Peter, Andrew and Philip and was the location of many miracles, including the successive healing of the blind man as told in Mark 8. The city of Bethsaida was later renamed after Livia Drusilla, (aka Julia Augusta) the wife of Caesar Augustus, who was emperor at the time Jesus’s birth. Caesar Augustus had no male heir of his own, so at his death, he bequeathed 2/3 of his empire to Tiberius, Livia’s son by another man, and 1/3 to Julia herself. Julia was very popular among the people of the empire and was at odds with her son, Tiberius. She was declared a priestess and then later a goddess, and many temples were built in her honor throughout the empire. One of these temples was built in Bethsaida and the ancient Jewish fishing town was renamed Julias in her honor.
During the feeding of the 5000, Jesus told the people to sit together in companies of 50. This recalls the encampment of the Israelites in the Sinai desert. Moses divided the people into companies that surrounded the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the true presence of God. The companies were led by four of the twelve tribes as represented on banners with images of a lion (representing Judah), the face of a man (representing Ruben), an ox (representing Ephraim) and an eagle (representing Dan). Just as the companies in Sinai surrounded the true presence of God in the Tabernacle, so too did the companies of 50 surround Jesus, the true presence of God and Word made flesh, at the feeding of the 5000. The images on the Sinai banners were later seen in the description of the four living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision of heaven (EZEK 1) as well as in John the Evangelist’s vision of heaven in Revelation 4: the four living creatures surround the true presence of God in heaven. The four living creatures also symbolize the Gospel writers: Matthew the man, Mark the lion, Luke the ox and John the eagle. In many churches, images of the Gospel writers in the form of the four living creatures surround the tabernacle, which contains the true presence of God in the Eucharist. The feeding of the 5000 prefigures the Eucharist: the words take, blessed, broke and gave said by Jesus are the same words spoken by the priest during the Eucharistic prayer. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples recognized Jesus after he first opened the Word and then took, blessed, broke and gave bread to the disciples. At mass, both the Word and the Eucharist are equally venerated as both are Jesus. Through Moses, the Lord fed manna to the Israelites; through Jesus the new Moses, the Lord fed bread to the 5000; through the priesthood in persona Christi, the Lord feeds us the bread of life in the Eucharist.
Finally, we learn about the Transfiguration, which most ancient historians believed took place on Mount Tabor. Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the mountain top, where they saw Elijah and Moses visit with the transfigured Jesus about his coming exodus. The fear the Apostles felt when they saw the radiant face of Jesus reminds us of the fear of the Israelites when they saw the radiant face of Moses after he received the tablets of the law from the Lord. They were all overshadowed by a cloud, which brings to mind the Lord’s appearance to Moses on Mount Sinai as well as the annunciation to Mary, who was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. The apostles were heavy with sleep, which reminds us of Gethsemane when the apostles fell asleep while Jesus prayed. Jesus’ human nature was highlighted in his baptism, while his divine nature was transmitted through the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration marked the turning point in the ministry of Jesus, when he set his face towards Jerusalem and his passion, death and resurrection.
©2019 Seeking Truth Catholic Bible Study
Sharon Doran serves as the teaching director of “Seeking Truth.” An experienced Bible Study teacher, Sharon has a passion for scripture that will motivate and challenge you to immerse yourself in God’s Word and apply His message to your everyday life.
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“Seeking Truth” is an in-depth Catholic Bible Study commissioned by the Archdiocese of Omaha in response to John Paul II’s call to the New Evangelization as well as Pope Benedict XVI’s exhortation for all Catholics to study scripture. To learn more, go to www.seekingtruth.net