For August 3, 2014: Transfiguration

The Reading            Exodus 34:29-35

The reading from Exodus is familiar from the last Sunday after Epiphany. It is, so to speak, the second coming down of the Ten Commandments, Moses having broken the original set on discovering that Israel had taken up idol worship. As Moses returns, his face shines with the glory of God’s presence—and terrifies everyone.

The Response            Psalm 99:5-9

Psalm 99 is a hymn of praise to God. The verses we read for the Feast of the Transfiguration reflect the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness and afterward, with God’s priests Moses, Aaron, and later Samuel calling on him for the people, and God speaking to Israel from the pillar of cloud.

The Epistle            2 Peter 1:13-21

The letters of Peter were probably written in his name and after his death: the author of 2 Peter 1:13-21 writes better Greek than a Galilean fisherman would know. This account is nevertheless a compelling witness to the impact on Peter of seeing his friend revealed as the very Son of God.

The Gospel            Luke 9:28-36

Versions of Jesus’ transfiguration are in all three synoptic gospels. Minor details vary—in Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells the disciples to say nothing, whereas in Luke’s version the disciples keep mum of their own accord—but all agree on the light, the prophets, Peter’s stunned response, and the announcement from heaven.

 

Further thoughts

The readings for the feast of the Transfiguration make much of appearances. The glow that Moses acquires from contact with God—and the apprehension it produces in the Israelites—prefigures the more striking and pervasive alterations in Jesus, with great Moses and Elijah paying court into the bargain, and the greater extent to which they leave Peter and the other disciples (to borrow the evocative British term) gobsmacked.

Interestingly, the book of Exodus doesn’t mention Moses’ skin shining the first time he brings the Ten Commandments to the people. Either his skin wasn’t shining, or it wasn’t obvious, until the second time, after the people have demanded an idol to worship and Aaron has complied and Moses has had his tantrum on God’s behalf. It’s sobering to think that people notice God’s glory when they need it to scare them straight—sobering, and unsettlingly familiar.

The encounter with Jesus plays out differently. Unlike Moses, Jesus seems both aware of and in control of his glory on the mountaintop. Of course, that’s appropriate to God, and of course Peter babbles. But then there is the voice out of the cloud. The voice doesn’t announce itself as God (not that it would have to), nor does it announce that Jesus is supreme, nor does it lay out point after point and law after law that must be obeyed or penalty after penalty that must be paid.

Instead, as 2 Peter remembers it, the voice simply says, “Listen to Jesus, because I love him.”

What if the kingdom of God is listening to each of the children of God—whether or not they recognize themselves as such—because God loves them?

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