Last Epiphany, Year C
2 Cor 3:12-4:2
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.
(2 Corinthians 3:12-18)
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.
(2 Corinthians 4:1-2)
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.
Now about eight days after these sayings 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 hanged, 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.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
What should be occurring when the church brings Jesus into conversation with the law and the prophets? What should be the focus of this discussion? Read these two questions again and then think about this for a moment before moving on.
Our reading for today contains something precious, something essential if we are to understand the gospel. It is so easy to miss this. In a very real sense it is the Lukan hermeneutic spelled out in exactly the same way as expressed by both Paul and the Fourth Gospel.
Only in Luke are we given the contents of the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Luke says that they were discussing Jesus’ ‘departure’ or ‘death.’ Jesus the scapegoat. Moses and Elijah will play strategic hermeneutic roles for Luke throughout his gospel. In Luke 4, it is the Elijah/Elisha cycle that is rehearsed; in Luke 7 where several Isaianic texts are strung together, it is the Elijah/Elisha cycle that also plays a role. We believe that David Moessner has given the most compelling evidence for a reading of the Travel Narrative of Luke as a recasting of the rejected prophet like Moses.
Elijah and Moses, the Torah and the prophets speaking with the gospel, and what is spoken about is the imminent fate of Jesus. But the church, like Peter, would rather not go in that direction. That is not fun, better just to build shelters in the glorious moment. What does the glory of this moment have to do with death? This dazzling light, these great figures of Israel’s history standing here, on this mountain, was plenty. It was a moment of sheer incomprehension, and as much as any Marcan text, shows the inability of the Galilean followers of Jesus to get what he was about. They did not want to acknowledge that there was an inevitability to Jesus’ cross. They could not fathom how Jesus’ dying could be a benefit.
But Luke clues us into this benefit of the cross of Jesus when he characterizes the conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah as a discussion about Jesus’ exodus. That is, what is about to happen is going to be above all else a redemptive event with history shaping implications. Think of what the Exodus under Moses meant to Israel in the subsequent millennia. Strange choice of a word, unless you wanted to evoke a sense that something bigger was going on here than that which meets the eye. The glory of God is revealed in the one who will bring to completion and fulfillment the work of the law and the prophets to break Judaism free from the victimizing elements of the pagan religions. Jesus accomplishes this in his death/departure/exodus. The complete and total revelation of the human condition and the complete and total revelation of the character of God.
The glory of God, maker of heaven and earth, revealed in the cross of Christ. This is almost a Johannine moment when one recalls (Year B) the Fourth Gospel’s use of the verbs upsao (to lift up) and doxazo (to glorify). It is also very Pauline. In what way is the glory of God revealed in the Cross of Christ? Simple, unlike all the other gods, Jesus does not go down swinging. He dies as he lived, as a man of peace. He died forgiving. Most of all he died innocent and thus forever disclosed the true nature of the human species poisoned by negative mimesis. The glory of God in the cross of Christ means that God is not like the gods of myth, even or especially the Christian myth. God is revealed as love, a thesis statement of the New Testament if there ever was one. And in the glory of the resurrection, God, the giver of Life, vindicates this one, this life, and astonishingly does not retaliate. Retaliation and retribution are not what God is about. Love and forgiveness are what God is about. To say otherwise is not Gospel but myth.
Comments from two sections of “Luke’s Use of Matthew.”
9:28-36 (pp. 139-40)
Luke followed the order of Matthew to obtain this account. However, unlike Matthew, Luke has been carefully building toward this crowning revelation of Jesus’ divine status since earlier in his narrative. A number of key figures, beginning with John the Baptist, asked the question repeatedly, “Who are you? Are you he who is to come?”
Simeon the Pharisee’s guests asked: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” The disciples asked each other: “Who is this who can command the wind and the sea and they obey him?” Herod Antipas said, “John the Baptist I beheaded, but who is this who does all these things?” Finally, Jesus himself asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter answers: “You are the Christ of God.” The true answer at last. But then, eight days later, Peter and James and John are taken up on “the mountain” where they witness a divine verification of the answer: Jesus is changed into pure light before their very eyes. They hear God’s Voice proclaim: “THIS IS MY SON! LISTEN TO HIM!” On this high note, Luke concludes his rich and nuanced history of Jesus’ Galilee ministry.
This vignette also sets the stage for the next part of the narrative: the lengthy account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, during which-with “listen to him!” still echoing in the background-Jesus teaches the Twelve and the crowds many things about the Christian life.
9:37-43a (pp. 145-46)
Luke continued to follow Mt’s order for this story. However, he made some minor alterations to heighten the dramatic impact. The most important difference is found at the end, where Luke has omitted Mt’s conclusion (Mt 17:19-20) and substituted his own (Lk 9:43a)……
Lk 9:43 is Luke’s replacement of Mt’s report of the downcast disciples coming to Jesus to ask why they could not heal the boy. Not that Luke suppressed all mention of the disciples’ desire to learn from their failure, leaving them instead in the harsh glare of abject failure.
If we’re preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, we have a choice to make before we even begin. Will we focus on the Transfiguration? Or on the disciples’ failure to heal the boy? Or will we try to combine them?
If we preach the Transfiguration, and if we’re faithful to Luke (we think it’s important to preach on the Gospel for this year, not a compilation of the double- or triple-tradition) then we have to preach on a Transfiguration whose focal idea is Jesus’ “departure.” On this Sunday, just a few days before Ash Wednesday, it isn’t difficult to include Jesus’ crucifixion, his “departure” in our preaching. “Listen to him!” We listen in awe as Jesus stands between Moses and Elijah, and then in distress as he discusses his departure. Somehow, our sermons for this day must include both the awe and the distress.
If we preach the return down the mountain, the disciples’ abject failure, we’re challenged to find Gospel. It would be too simple for us to fall into the trap of treating the disciples as scapegoats, “others.” Even if we manage to avoid that pitfall, how do we find gospel here?
“You faithless and perverse generation! How long must I bear with you?” Jesus cries out at the faithlessness of those who surround him, and promptly heals the child. As we enter into the season of Lent, how unwilling we are to face the depth of our denial of God’s place in our lives. How conveniently we overlook the fear that imprisons us in a way of living that starves so many people every day.
We overlook it because we don’t really believe in forgiveness. We won’t face our faithlessness because we think that if we do, we’ll see as much of God’s back as God sees of ours.
Jesus bemoans the suffering that results from our faithlessness. He cries out because the child suffered needlessly, but he does not walk away. He hears the cries of the faithless and delivers the victim.
Here is a Gospel that dares us to get real, to invite God into our fear-filled lives and convert us with healing love.