Friday, 10 August 2012

Spirituality 41: Transfiguration (3) and St. John's Gospel

In this third consecutive Post on the Transfiguration, I would like to address an aspect of it that is rarely addressed by theology: the relationship between St. John (his writings) and the Transfiguration. Let me explain my point:

If we accept (you don't have to) that all the writings of the Bible put under the name of “John” are of the same person,
if we accept that (you don't have to) that same person is John the Apostle,
if we accept that he was one of the three admitted to be the witness of the Lord's Transfiguration, and
if we consider the Transfiguration as something of a transcendental meaning/importance
then we seriously have to wonder:

how come John is not mentioning the Transfiguration in his Gospel?!”

In other words we can say: “The Transfiguration certainly left a great and living influence on St. John, and he most probably meditated upon it, time and time again. Since the Transfiguration is that central in Christ's message, one dares to think that most probably John decided to insert it in his Gospel. He didn't do it in an obvious, literal way: there is no account of the Transfiguration in his Gospel. So he probably found a way to mention it, or at least to mention it's essential message. He probably chose to place the Transfiguration in a more “central way”. Indeed, the way the “Transfiguration” is inserted in the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) looks a bit off-centred, like a meteorite that landed from nowhere.

The more one deepens the Transfiguration (spending years on meditating on it) the more one sees its transcendental importance, the more one is convinced that: it is impossible for John - who witnessed it - to remain totally silent about it.
It is puzzling! unless one thinks that he probably found a solution to say it, to present it, in a way that is “integral to the message”, and all together “less abstract” (landing from nowhere in the middle of the Gospel, with no other text related to it), “less frightening” (hearing the Voice of the Father, falling scared of the floor: “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified” (Mt 17:6).)

What would you say?

The first thing that one notices in St John's Gospel is the way he presents Jesus' Passion and the Cross. It is not all a suffering moment, it is first and foremost the main moment where God reveals His Glory. On the Cross God is glorified, and the Son is Glorified. The Passion is a moment of Victory for Jesus. One would say that John did meditate that much the Passion and the Cross that God introduced him in a greater depth. You can see John's reaction when he sees Jesus' side transpierced by a spear: “one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” (John 19:34-35)

More texts about God's Glory at the Cross: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:5; see as well John 13:32) The death of Jesus glorifies God the father. The death of Jesus' disciples does glorify God as well: “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (John 21:19).

The Cross is then for John the highest point of the manifestation of the Glory of God in Jesus. In that sense, why would one put in the Gospel an “off-centred event” that speaks about the Glory of God (the Transfiguration). In that same vein, you can already see that Luke starts to orientate the Transfiguration toward the Cross and its Glory: “And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His Exodus [departure] which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.“ (Luke 9:30-31)

So, reasonably, one has to find the essence of the Transfiguration and its relationship with the Cross, and how did John plan his Gospel according to this “combination”.

The main structure of the Transfiguration in the the Synoptics (Mt, Mk and Lk) is simple:
a- A Promise of a vision (some who are present here will see the Son of God coming in his Kingdom)
b- The realisation of the Promise (the event itself of the Transfiguration with its 3 steps: climbing, the transfiguration (clothes, face, Moses and Elijah), and the overshadowing (the Cloud and the Voice of the Father).
c- Mentioning that that was a vision.

You'll be amazed to discover that in the Gospel of saint John you can find an event that has the same structure: Cana's wedding (John 2:1-11).


a- The wedding is preceded by a Promise“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
b- The wedding itself is the realisation (in a “symbolic” and prophetical way) of this Promise, waiting for the Cross to be the real realisation of it.
c- The wedding ends by a strong statement: “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:11)


John decides to structure his Gospel, all his Gospel with an event: a wedding.

Note: the least we can say is that this wedding is mysterious. We don't know who is the Groom, who is the Bride. You can guess, but it is not clear. It speaks about “Jesus' hour”. The text itself, if it is read simply as the account of a wedding, it doesn't work. There are too many “holes”/”bumps” that don't allow us to say that John wanted to tell us about a simple miracle (and not a “sign” as he says), and a miracle performed in a wedding. Did Jesus ever perform a useless miracle?! Of course not. What is the point of having “new wine” if the “new wine” didn't mean something else. This mysterious wedding can only be understood at another level because the text itself is not complete or intelligible if taken “to the letter”.

John decides to put something else equivalent to the Transfiguration not only in the beginning of his Gospel, but as a structural event that will dictate its structure to the whole Gospel (we will go through that).

You have the right to complain about these assertions, saying that: there are not proofs. Just give me some time in order, not to proof anything (because you are the one who can see it for yourself), but just to show it.

(to be continued...)

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