Friday, August 06, 2010

Tabor and Cana: Two of a Kind?

Yesterday I came across a scrap of paper (actually, it was an old church envelope!) on which I had scribbled, "Cana and Transfiguration: they saw his glory." That certainly was timely; I didn't even realize until later that night that today would be the Feast of the Transfiguration. So I am letting that little note guide my meditation.
It's not as odd a pairing as it seems at first glance: there's more to these two events than the shared theme of the disciples' witnessing Jesus' glory (although that may be the strongest common element).
Here's what I am finding:

  • At Tabor, as at Cana, the story hints that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
  • At Tabor and at Cana, we are told explicitly to listen to Jesus.
  • Tabor and Cana both look ahead in some way to the Cross.
  • And then there's the glory thing (explicit in both stories); there are two "dimensions" to this one.

Jesus as the fulfilment of the Old Testament.
If you were Matthew, Mark or Luke, the way you would say "Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament" would be to take two persons who, together, summed up in themselves the "Law and the Prophets" and set them alongside Jesus. Behold, Moses and Elijah.
If you were John,  you would say "Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament" by using the great theme of the wedding (present implicitly in Adam and Eve--"the woman" of Genesis--as well as in the prophets, like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Hosea). Not only does John situate Jesus at a wedding, he makes sure "the woman" is there, too, so we get the point.

Listen to Jesus

That command "Listen to him" comes at Tabor from the shining cloud: "This is my chosen Son; listen to him."
At Cana, it is Mary who tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 

Tabor and Cana look ahead to the Cross
We hear the Gospel of the Transfiguration at couple of times in the liturgical year, most dramatically on the second Sunday of Lent, where it carries out the role it did for the apostles: preparing us for the events of Good Friday by giving a sneak peak of the ultimate triumph to come. Luke makes sure we get the connection by telling us that Moses and Elijah "spoke with Jesus about his exodus which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem."
At Cana, John uses two key words to hint at the same mystery of our salvation. The code word "glory" in John always refers to the Paschal Mystery in its fullness, but the word "hour" focuses especially on the Passion. When Jesus tells Mary "my hour has not yet come," he is clearly saying that what she is asking is closely related to the crucial contest he is to undergo to fulfill his mission on earth.

They saw his glory
Matthew and Mark start the Transfiguration story right after reporting that Jesus spoke of coming "in his Father's glory with the holy angels." Six days later, they say, Jesus took Peter, James and John up that mountain, always the place where God would be met in majesty. Luke says that as Jesus changed in appearance, and even his clothing glowed, Moses and Elijah "appeared in glory." Today's second reading, from 2 Peter, assures us that Jesus "received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory" (a double-header). Plenty of glory, right before Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem that will lead straight to the Cross. 
At Cana, Jesus did this, "the beginning of his signs... and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him." It's hard for me not to hear this, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, as an echo of what John wrote in his prologue: "We saw his glory, the glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.... For while the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, God ever at the Father's side, who has revealed him."

Tabor and Cana both speak of heaven
As the Church reads the Transfiguration and prays over it liturgically, she sees not only a foreshadowing of Christ's own post-resurrection glory, but even "the glory to be revealed in us" when God will "raise our lowly bodies and configure them to Christ's glorified body" (as St. Paul put it). To share Christ's glory is to share the source of that glory: the divine life itself. Even now, through grace, we are "partakers in the divine nature."
Cana also foretells something of the life of the world to come, but John stresses the aspect of intimate communion, hinted at in the ancient biblical image of spousal love (as in a spiritual reading of the Song of Songs).

I'm not saying that for John, Cana was the Transfiguration, but it sure does look like Cana assumes, in John's Gospel, some of the meaning of the Transfiguration (which John, being John, treats in an entirely unique manner--see John 12, especially verses 20-33). At any rate, I am finding this pairing of scenes very helpful for prayer. How about you?

1 comment:

Sr. Lorraine said...

That's a beautiful meditation! Thanks!
One of my favorite books is "Mary in the Mystery of the Covenant" by de la Potterie. In the chapter on Cana, he says that in that episode "The mother of Jesus stands as the personification of Israel, who appears especially in the title 'Woman' which Jesus gives her."

That opens up another line of reflection as to how Mary represents Israel at Cana, and how Moses and Elijah represent Israel at the Transfiguration. Maybe in some way it could be seen as almost the "passing of the torch," in that Mary not only represents Israel, but is the beginning of the New Covenant. John Paul says that in Mother of the Redeemer.