• An exodus in five verbs

  • Bishop Charles J. Scicluna’s opinion piece published on The Sunday Times on Easter Sunday, 20th April 2014.

    Simon Peter had just professed his faith that his leader Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, was “the Christ of God”. Jesus ordered his group of disciples to tell no one and started talking about suffering, being rejected, dying and being raised on the third day. “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9, 27).

    ​Eight days later, Jesus took with him a core group made up of Simon Peter, John and James and went up on a mountain to pray. As he was praying he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun and his garments became white as light. Two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glory. A voice from a heavenly cloud declared: “This is my Beloved Son; listen to him” (Luke 9, 35).

    All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) feature the transfiguration of Jesus. All mention the appearance of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. But only Luke tells us what they were talking about: “they spoke of his departure (ten exodon autou)”. The use of the word exodos is highly significant. The accepted reference in this context would be to a departure from life, to death. But the Gospel narratives describe the death of Jesus itself as a series of exoduses, of movements from one place to a place outside.

    He moves from the Upper Room, where he has celebrated his last supper with his apostles, to the Garden of Gethsemane. He is forcibly taken from Gethsemane to the house of the High Priest, from there to the Sanhedrin Council, then to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod and back, from Pilate he is taken outside the walls of Jerusalem to Calvary, from Golgotha to the tomb in the garden, from death to the resurrection. This final exodus is what we celebrate at Easter: the ultimate Passover from the realm of death to life eternal.

    Pope Francis has chosen this exodus theme for his programme of reform in the Church, which he announces and describes in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG: The Joy of the Gospel), dated November 24, 2013.

    In no uncertain terms, the Pope declares that at the heart of the Gospel, “in this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead”, EG 36. Echoing the primordial call of the Risen Lord to his disciples, the Pope invites the Church to go forth, to become ever more a missionary Church. He invites it to enter into an exodus mode: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel” EG 20.

    Pope Francis describes the essence of this exodus mode using five verbs: taking the first step, being involved and supportive, bearing fruit and rejoicing EG 24. The Italian version renders the verbs as: prendere l’iniziativa, coinvolgersi, accompagnare, fruttificare e festeggiare. The Maltese translation has adopted: ‘nieħdu l-inizjattiva, ninvolvu ruħna, insieħbu, nagħmlu l-frott, niffesteġġjaw’.

    In this era of a renewed ‘Franciscan’ missionary exodus, the Church is called to take the initiative. “An evangelising community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first, and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy”.

    The second verb is to be involved. One recalls the parable of the Good Samaritan who did not ignore the broken man by the wayside but went out of his way to help him. “An evangelising community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

    The third exodus verb is to be supportive. “An evangelising community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance.”

    The fourth verb is to bear fruit. “An evangelising community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain, does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear.”

    The fifth verb is to rejoice and celebrate. “An evangelising community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelisation. Evangelisation with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy, as part of our daily concern to spread goodness. The Church evangelises and is itself evangelised through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelisation and the source of its renewed self-giving”.

    Easter blessings to all!

    + Mgr Charles Scicluna

    Auxiliary Bishop of Malta