Old Testament: Exodus (34:29-35)
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
The Response: Psalm 99
1 The Lord is King; let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3 Let them confess his Name,
which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8 “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians (3:12-42)
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
The Gospel: Luke (9:28-36)
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
by the Rev. Mike Kreutzer
At least in this life, we will never know what actually happened at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration; but then, St. Luke didn’t know either – and he knew that he didn’t know. Mark and Matthew say that Jesus was “transformed” or “transfigured”; but the Greek in Luke’s account says literally that “the appearance of his face became other” – nothing more specific than that, just “other.” He was the same person, but appeared to be different in some apparently indescribable way.
Luke sandwiches this scene in between Jesus’ first prediction of his coming passion and death, on the one hand, and the beginning of his great journey to Jerusalem, his journey to the cross, on the other. It could be that the third evangelist is trying to step out of the sobering message of those two passages to tell us that, despite all outward appearances and despite all that Jesus is about to suffer, this is who he really is.
At the end of this story, Luke says that Peter, James, and John “kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” Unlike Mark’s and Matthew’s versions, Jesus never orders them not to say anything about the experience at this time. It is their choice. Maybe they decided not to say anything about what they witnessed, and about the fuller reality of who Jesus is, because nobody would have believed them anyway. We just don’t know. But apparently they were privy to, at least briefly, a baffling, new insight into who Jesus was, coming to know him in a way they never had before.
That happens sometimes in life. An incident or even a passing comment can enable us to see someone else, maybe someone whom we have known for a long time, in a completely different light. We might come to recognize that there is much more to them, maybe a new depth in them, than what we had previously seen. We need to be sensitive to and open to such possibilities.
But there is another situation in which we can be surprised by new insights as well. Today’s first reading, taken from the book of Exodus, obviously inspired the way that the gospel writers described Jesus’ transfiguration. It’s a strange story in many ways. Moses had been up on Mt. Sinai, talking with God. As a result of his intimate contact with the divine, his face was changed, and it shone. Aaron and all the rest of the Israelites saw his face and were afraid even to come near him. It was obvious to everybody what had happened – to everybody except Moses himself. As Exodus narrates it: “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Here was the glory of God literally shining through Moses. But Moses couldn’t see it. He had no idea that others saw the glory of God reflected in him.
I wonder how often we fail to see God’s presence in ourselves: a presence that can make a positive difference in the lives of others. We sometimes tend to idealize some of the great figures in our Jewish and Christian heritage, such as those mentioned in the bible or those known as “saints.” We tell ourselves that we are nothing like them, that we cannot possibly touch people’s lives with the presence and life of God as they did. We tend to equate “being a saint” with some sort of imagined and totally unrealistic notion of what “being good” means. But, as 20th-century American theologian Paul Tillich pointed out, “The saint is a saint not because he is good but because he is transparent for something that is more than he himself is.” Put another way, the saint is one who allows God to enter people’s lives through her, to shine through her, to touch others with God’s love and compassion in a fully human way.
That seems to be the primary way and sometimes the only way that God touches the lives of human beings: through other human beings. And “being human” necessarily includes the fact that we all have flaws, that none of us is perfect, that we can sometimes make God’s presence in us a bit obscure, if not opaque, instead of being transparent and letting God shine through.
Often we fail to let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16). We might not see that light ourselves; but then, on the other hand, our insistence on how inadequate we are to the task might just be a defense: an attempt to get ourselves off-the-hook when it comes to going out and serving others, professing our faith through what we do. Like Moses, standing there at the foot of Mt. Sinai, we might not see God’s presence in ourselves; but others might see in us something that we tend to miss or to ignore or even try to hide.
Yet others cannot see God in us if they can’t see us: if we just keep to ourselves instead of making the effort to go out to them and touch their lives with God’s love and compassion in the way that we have been commissioned to do. We have many opportunities to serve others in our community and, in doing so, to allow God’s light to shine in their lives through us. But all too often, we choose to keep to ourselves instead of taking the time and making the effort to do what needs to be done. As Mark Twain once lamented, “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”
Or, maybe more to our point, we are often unwilling to take advantage of an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.
None of us is perfect – far from it. None of us reflects the presence of God as clearly as we might. But we are all that we have. And we may well be all that other people have, too.
I don’t think there is any chance that our faces are going to be transformed in some miraculous way, like that of Moses at Mt. Sinai or that of Jesus on the mountain. But God can and does work through anyone who is willing; and God can and will work through us. After all, when you get right down to it, your face is the only face of God that most people will ever see.