Revised Common Lectionary: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:26-36 (37-43a)
Narrative Lectionary: The Man Born Blind, John 9:1-41 (Psalm 27:1-4)
On Transfiguration Sunday, we read the story of how Moses came down from Mount Sinai and his face shown in Exodus 34:29-35. Even his brother Aaron was afraid to come near him, for Moses’ skin shone bright because he was talking to God. However, Moses spoke to the people, teaching them what God had commanded them, and afterward he wore a veil when he was among the people. He would take the veil off when in the presence of God, but keep the veil on when he returned from the mountain to tell the people what God had spoken to them.
Psalm 99 is a call to worship of the people, a song praising God in the holy throne room. God is the mighty king, the lover of justice, and the earth quakes under God’s reign. The psalm calls Moses and Aaron the priests of God, for God spoke to them in the pillar of cloud and they kept the commandments of God. God answered their prayers and was forgiving, but God also executes justice. The psalmist concludes by calling the people to worship God at God’s holy mountain. Mountains were seen in ancient cultures as places where heaven and earth met, where the divine and human could encounter one another.
The Epistle reading shifts to 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, where Paul recalls the passage from Exodus about Moses wearing a veil. Paul uses the veil as a metaphor for the people of his day when they heard the word of God through the covenant. According to Paul, for the believers in Christ, the veil is removed, and they can see the image of God as if it is reflected in a mirror by the Holy Spirit within one another. In this same manner, Paul urges the believers to be truthful, to not hide behind a veil, but to be steadfast and bold. True believers don’t use deception or misuse God’s word; instead, they publicly commit themselves to the truth.
In Luke’s account of the transfiguration, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain with him to pray. While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah spoke with him, and in Luke’s version, they are speaking about Jesus’ soon-to-be departure in Jerusalem. Peter, James, and John are tired, but they behold this scene, and as Moses and Elijah are leaving, Peter speaks up. Peter tells Jesus it’s good they were present, and they want to make three dwellings, one for each of them. The Common English Bible uses the word “shrine” instead of dwelling, indication a sort of worship for Elijah, Moses, and Jesus. Then a cloud suddenly overshadowed them all and the disciples were terrified. A voice came from the cloud telling them to listen to the Son, the Chosen One. When the cloud lifted, Jesus was alone, and they didn’t say anything. In verses 37-43a, it is the next day when they come down the mountain, and a man begs Jesus to heal his son of a spirit. The other disciples could not cast the demon out. Jesus tells the man to bring his son to him, but not before declaring this is a faithless and perverse generation and complains about putting up with them. Jesus rebukes the spirit and gives the boy back to his father, and everyone was amazed.
The Narrative Lectionary focuses on the story of Jesus healing a blind man in John 9:1-41. The disciples see a man born blind, and ask Jesus who sinned. There was a common understanding that disabilities were caused by sin, though there was debate at that time as to who was responsible for that sin. We must tread carefully in these stories of healing. Jesus is quick to declare that no one sinned. However, some interpret this story that God made people disabled so that they could become inspirational stories (miracle healings), and that is not true. Healing is not the same as curing. When Jesus heals this man, who used to beg (because in that day, if you were blind or had other disabilities, you could not work, you could only beg to survive), he no longer has to beg. He is no longer known as the blind beggar—”Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” (vs. 8). Now, he is one who testifies to Jesus. Jesus uses the metaphor of this man’s blindness with the Pharisees later, who cannot see that this is the work of God. However, we must be careful in using these metaphors. They are in our Scripture, but it doesn’t mean that using the term “spiritual blindness” is the best way for us to convey ignorance of God’s ways and God’s healing. There are other ways we can speak without using ablelist terms. But this story still has a powerful point: the man who was once unable to participate in society, because of the restrictions that society placed on those who were blind, is now able to participate. That’s the healing moment, not that he is no longer blind. Jesus has freed him from those restrictions.
Psalm 27:1-4 declares that God is our salvation and light, our strength, and we have no reason to fear. Instead, the psalmist declares they will seek God, and the only thing they desire is to live with God all the days of their life, to be in God’s presence in the temple.
The Transfiguration is a mystery. Just like with Moses, the physical description of Jesus on the mountain just doesn’t cut it for our human understanding. Our words fail us. Something happened, enough that Peter wanted to worship Jesus differently and perhaps worship Moses and Elijah, but God declared that instead they needed to listen to Jesus. When Jesus called out, “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I put up with you?” I’m sure that was not comforting to the father who came with his possessed son, yet Jesus healed him. There are misunderstandings between what the disciples experienced and what we read today, perhaps some religious or cultural nuance that has been lost. What we can say is this: somehow, human beings continue to try to understand God and Jesus in our terms, but we fail, and when we fail, we fail one another. Instead, we ought to listen to God, to the teaching through prophets and Jesus, and follow their ways. Rather than trying to figure out right worship, perhaps it’s more about right listening and living with one another.
Call to Worship (1 Corinthians 15:51-52a, 56)
Listen, I will tell you a mystery!
We will not all die, but we will all be changed.
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
At the last trumpet blast.
The trumpet will sound,
And the dead will rise.
We will be changed,
Death will be swallowed up in victory.
Come, worship our God,
The God of Mystery, the God of Life.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Ancient and Holy One, we confess that we have fallen into the same patterns as our ancestors. We have sought to worship an ideal instead of worshiping You. We have worried about practicing right religion instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves and practicing justice. We have put much weight on the words we say and less on how we live out Your teaching. Forgive us. Call us back to the teachings of the prophets. Call us back to the way of life in Jesus Christ. Call us back to love and forgive one another, to work for healing and restoration. Call us into Your way, Your truth, and Your life, in Jesus Christ. Amen.
God is ancient and new. God is from the beginning and what will be. There is so much mystery, but so much love for you. Out of all we do not know, we do know this: God loves us enough he sent Jesus to us, who laid down his life for us, calling us to do the same for one another. God loves us enough that he asks us to love one another, for by loving one another, we love God. Know this and live.
God of our ancestors, You drew closer to us in the mountains, where we built our temples to worship You, believing we were touching heaven. You drew closer to us in ritual and practice, where we attempted to show You our devotion and care. You came to us in community, calling us together, and lived as one of us in Jesus Christ. We are continually breaking through boundaries that we have made, or believed were there, and finding the Mystery goes deeper, to the root of the universe, to all You have made. We find You in our hearts, in one another, and the more we love one another, the more fully we know You. Remind us always that love is at the heart of it all—despite all mysteries and all knowledge and all faith, if we do not have love, we are nothing. Help us to always hold on to love, to treasure it as a priceless gift, and also, to give it freely. Amen.