Why did Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus at the Transfiguration? I can understand why it makes sense for someone to appear with him, for the sake of showing not only the radiance of the Son of God but also of mere man. But why those two? Why not Abraham, or Isaiah, or any number of the prophets?
Well, let’s consider for a moment the lives of these two men. Moses was at the top of his game, a beloved prince among the Egyptians. In a moment, his life is changed when he kills an Egyptian, and flees. God comes to him, and tells him to return to Egypt and free his people, to lead them into the Promised Land. Moses is not too keen on the idea. He knows all too well how difficult it will be. But he does manage to lead the people out of Egypt and into the desert, where his struggles really begin. At every turn, he is having to corral them. These indignant and unfaithful people are his responsibility to lead. For years, he has to shoulder that burden. Eventually it becomes too much, and in a moment of weakened faith, he strikes the rock which would bring forth water. For this, God tells him he will lead the people to the Promised Land, but he will never be able to enter. Shepherding these people is to be his entire purpose in life, his cross to bear, and when the task is finished, he is to die alone.
Then consider Elijah. He has no real tremendous wisdom about him, or fantastical miracles, or stirring soliloquies. Rather, he spends his entire life as the sole bulwark of faith against an entire kingdom flush with paganism and darkness. Everywhere he goes, he is forced to confront it. And he does so, head on and without hesitation. He is relentlessly besieged by it, but he does not waver in his faith. Once that siege finally lets up, he retreats, exhausted by his fight, and begs God to allow him to die. Instead, God sends the fiery chariot which whisks him away into the unknown.
The stories of both of these men bear striking similarity to the story of Christ. Christ, too, has to constantly reproach his followers, has to act as the shepherd who endlessly pokes and prods his people in an effort to get them to change their sinful ways. He is the sole warrior in the fight against darkness and evil, relentlessly besieged and always firm in his resolve. He bears the cross of all people, and when the task is finished, he will die alone. Christ is the fulfillment of the prophets, the final and definitive stroke. From this fact, it seems most fitting that it was Moses and Elijah who would appear at his side.
Though a question arises here, when we think of Jesus and the prophets. Why is it that God speaks through prophets? Why is it that we are expected to hear the Word of God through other men? Wouldn’t it be much better for Him to simply speak to all of us? The disciples were given the tremendous gift of being able to hear from Christ himself. If only we had lived in that day! To hear Jesus speak, to see him walk down the street, to witness the miracles! How much easier it would be for us to believe if we could only see Jesus and not have to hear it from others, especially now that we are two thousand years removed.
Would it be easier, though? Even the people who witnessed Christ’s miracles, most of the people who walked with him and spoke to him, rejected him. Would we be any different? Are we so special as to be able to see Jesus without bias and trepidation? The answer, of course, is “No.”
Recalls the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man finds himself in the fires of Hell, and begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to give him something to drink. Abraham refuses, and also tells the rich man that a great chasm lies between them which cannot be crossed. The man instead asks that Lazarus return to the world, so that he might warn the man’s friends about what is to come if they do not repent and change their lives. Again, Abraham refuses, for those men have Moses and the prophets to hear it from (that is, they have the received Revelation of God). The rich man presses, insisting that if only they could see with their own eyes, they would believe. “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
We are to hear the Word of God from other men, here in the world. We are to hear the faith through the lived experience of faith from others. This is the essential character of Christian community.
“Plant-like, we sprout from our own seed, but we grow by feeding upon other growth. In the same way we arrive at truth through personal recognition; the ‘ingredients’ which go into that recognition, however, are brought us by others. Man is humanity’s way to life. Man is humanity’s way to God, and it befits us that God’s word personally penetrate each of our hearts, but that it be brought to us by others. God’s word through the lips of man: that is the law of our religious life.”
-Romano Guardini ("The Lord")
God created us to be in community with one another, to grow and feed off each others’ experiences and life. It is why he saw fit to create Eve, to be that first companion of Adam. It is why God sent the prophets, instead of merely revealing Himself individually to every individual person. It is why Jesus founded a Church, and not a bullhorn with which he could shout his message to the ends of the Earth. Christ is the fulfillment of the prophets, and just as the prophets called a people, a nation, to faith, so too Christ calls a people: us.
Every day of Lent, I am writing a reflection piece on two chapters of "The Lord" by Romano Guardini. If you'd like to read or follow along, you can find the full calendar of where we're at below, or Click Here for the main landing page.