Lesson: Exodus 34:29-35
29 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. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 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, 35 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 Book of Exodus is the second book of the Torah/Pentateuch and covers the period from the slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh (around 1250 BCE, if the account is historical), the Exodus itself, and the early months in the Wilderness.
Today’s reading is set at Mount Sinai (“Horeb” in other parts of Exodus and in Deuteronomy) during the time in the Wilderness.
Because of this reading from the Hebrew Bible and today’s Gospel reading, many Christians refer to this Sunday as “Transfiguration Sunday.” In this reading, Moses’ face shone when he came down from Mount Sinai after speaking with YHWH (translated as LORD in all capital letters). On the mountain, he (Moses) wrote the “words of the covenant” (the Ten Commandments or the Ten Words) on tablets as directed by YHWH (34:27). Moses put a veil over his face after he gave the people the Commandments (v.33) and he removed the veil whenever he spoke to YHWH face-to-face (v.34).
The account in today’s reading was Moses’ second return from the top of Mount Sinai. Just a few chapters earlier, Moses came down from the mountain with the Commandments written by YHWH in the first account (31:18). In that instance, when Moses and YHWH saw that the Israelites built a Golden Calf, YHWH threatened to destroy them. Moses pleaded with YHWH to reverse that decision and YHWH relented (Chapters 32 and 33).
The Hebrew words saying that Moses’ face “shone” (v.29) or in other translations “was radiant” shares an etymological root with the word “horn” (as in a source of sound projection). In his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), Jerome rendered these Hebrew words as “was horned.” This unfortunate translation was the basis for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses showing him with horns and led to the anti-semitic belief that Jews had horns.
Moses’ speaking with God face-to-face became an important aspect of the description of the expected Messiah when this account in Exodus was combined with two verses in the Book of Deuteronomy. In one verse, YHWH promised to “raise up for them [the people of Israel] a prophet like you [Moses].” (Deut. 18.18) The other verse stated that no other prophet in Israel has been known by God face-to-face (Deut. 34.10).
Today’s Gospel reading presents Jesus of Nazareth as conversing with Moses and Elijah, and notes that “the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29).
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
12 Since then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 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. 14 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. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 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.
4:1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 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.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic. Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) and presented his views on many issues that were controversial in this Jesus Follower Community. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians was written in opposition to “false apostles” (11.13). It seems to be a composite of fragments from other letters that have been lost, some of which are referred to in the letter with which we are presented. Some of the statements in the letter are inconsistent with other statements in Paul’s epistles.
Moses’ veil was presented as a protection for the Israelites (Ex. 34:35) because it was too overpowering for the people to look at Moses’ shining face. But in today’s reading, Paul said the “glory” (Torah) is being set aside (v.13) and he reinterpreted the veil worn by Moses as a metaphor for unenlightenment (vv.14-15).
Paul stated the veil is only set aside in Christ (v.14) and we (Christians) now see the glory of the Lord because we have “unveiled faces” and are being “transformed from one degree of glory to another (v.18).
Gospel: Luke 9:28b-43a
28b Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 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. 33 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. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 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.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 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. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 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. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
The Gospel According to Luke is generally regarded as having been written around 85 CE. Its author also wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Both books were written in elegant and deliberatively crafted Greek and presented Jesus of Nazareth as the universal savior of humanity. Both emphasized the Holy Spirit as the “driving force” for events.
The Gospel followed the same general chronology of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the Gospel of Mark, and more than 40% of Luke’s Gospel was based on Mark. The other portions of Luke include (a) sayings shared with the Gospel According to Matthew but not found in Mark and (b) stories that are unique to Luke such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Prodigal Son, and the Good Samaritan.
In today’s reading Jesus took his “inner circle” (Peter, James, and John) and went up on an unspecified mountain where he was transfigured and appeared with Moses (representing the Torah) and Elijah (representing the prophets).
The statement that Peter, James, and John were “weighed down with sleep” (v.32) may indicate that the Transfiguration occurred at night, and anticipated the same sleeping condition when they were supposed to keep watch for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:45).
Peter’s desire to make three dwellings (v.33) was a reaction to make permanent a numinous moment and to keep Moses and Elijah present.
The “cloud” is a customary image for God (as in Exodus 13) and the “voice” is similar to the voice and words spoken at Jesus’ baptism (3:22).
In the second part of today’s reading, the healing of the child possessed by a spirit is also found in the other Synoptic Gospels (Mark 9:14 and Matt. 17:14). Calling the people “a faithless and perverse generation” was reminiscent of Moses’ last words to the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land (Deut. 32:5, 20). Most scholars agree that this Deuteronomic ”Song of Moses” is a late insertion reflecting the Judeans’ faithlessness that led to the Exile.