The disciples who asked the question, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” (Mt 17:10) were Peter, James, and John, who had just witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. They were walking down from the Mount of Transfiguration, tradition identifying this mountain as Mt. Tabor, and the context of the question had to do with, Moses and Elijah, who they saw with Jesus as he revealed to them his divinity.
As the disciples were attempting to digest this Mystery of the Transfiguration that they had just witnessed, they were drawn back to what they knew, the interpretations of the scribes. Most likely what they were referring to were the accounts in the Books of Sirach and Malachi. In Sirach 48:10 we too can read that, “You [Elijah] are destined, it is written, in times to come to put an end to the wrath before the day of the Lord, to turn back the hearts of the fathers toward their sons, and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.” In the last chapter of the Book of Malachi, which is incidentally the last lines of the Christian Old Testament ordering of the canon, are the words: “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I enjoined upon him on Horeb, the Statutes and ordinances for all Israel. Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day” (3:22-23).
Moses in this encounter represents the Torah, the Law or Teachings, and Elijah represents the line of prophets. Elijah also, as we can read in 2 Kings 2:11, was taken up by God into heaven, amid “a flaming chariot and flaming horses… and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”, and, it was believed, that he was to return again at the appointed time when the Messiah would come. Jesus clarified for his disciples that John was indeed the new Elijah. In the revealing of his divinity to Peter, James, and John, Jesus showed that he was the fulfillment of the salvific paths forged by Moses, Elijah, the line of prophets, and John the Baptist.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, and he is our fulfillment as well. We are invited to prepare the Way of the Lord in our hearts and minds, to become less so that Jesus can become more, as well as to help prepare the way for others. When I began to attend church again in my late teens, I went to the Congregational Church that was about a half-mile walk from our home. At the end of that first service I attended, the interim pastor made an appeal for Sunday School teachers. One of the things he said was that we do not know who Jesus’ Sunday School teacher was and he referenced that we could be teaching Jesus and not be aware.
We were not to take him literally, but his point was that we had the responsibility to continue to pass on the Greatest Story ever told. Also, his appeal was an avenue for the Holy Spirit to speak through him to me, and although I refused the invitation the first week, I returned and accepted the invitation the following week. What might Jesus be inviting you to do this Advent? Trust his invitation.
My yes to teaching Sunday School, not knowing the first thing about what I was doing, thinking I was too young and way too inexperienced, would eventually, through different twists and turns, lead me back home to the Catholic Church, to becoming a teacher, a deacon, and me writing you today and continuing to share the message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).
Photo: First Congregational Church of East Windsor, one of the early stepping stones that led me to where I am today. Accessed from: http://fcceastwindsor.com/