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Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle C

A consideration of these texts is included in the notes on Proper 4, Ordinary Time 9, Second Sunday after Pentecost below.



Transfiguration accounts, whether in the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 34:29-35) or in the Newer Testament (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36) or in the sacred writings of other religious traditions, are primarily validation texts. They are similar in some respects to call stories. Call stories are used to authenticate the messages and ministries of persons, especially of prophetic figures whose authority is being questioned. Transfiguration accounts, on the other hand, are used to validate not persons but writings.

Call stories and transfiguration accounts are far more than merely historical records of events that have occurred at a certain time and place. They serve to establish the authority of a person or of a written document within a religious community. The dominant texts selected for this coming Transfiguration Sunday are designed to validate very important documents. The Exodus 34:29-35 text is a validation of the Torah and the Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) Transfiguration account is a validation of the Gospel According to Luke, a continuation of the validation of the Gospel According to Mark in the Transfiguration account in Mark 9:2-8 and of the validation of the Gospel According to Matthew in Matthew 17:1-8.

Psalm 99

For use with the Transfiguration texts, it is obvious that Psalm 99 was chosen by the theologians who selected the texts for our lectionary because of verse 7, in which we read that “From within the cloud formation the Lord spoke to them; they kept the precepts and the statutes that the Lord gave to them.” This is the portion of Psalm 99 that provides a link to the Exodus 34:29-35 and the Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) accounts.

Exodus 34:29-35

In the narrow sense, this account validates the Decalogue only, since it was the two tables of the covenant, the ten words (sentences) rather than the entire Torah that Moses is said to have carried with him as he came down from Mount Sinai. Nevertheless, since verse 34 indicates that Moses went in before the Lord many times after that, to speak with the Lord and later to relate to the people of Israel whatever the Lord had commanded Moses to relate, Exodus 34:29-35 serves to validate the entire Torah and not merely the ten words on the two tables of the covenant.

It is of interest to note how the Qur’an speaks about the many times that Muhammad went to the cave near Mecca to receive the words of the Qur’an in small installments so that he could remember them and write them in excellent Arabic even though it is believed that he was not otherwise able to read or to write. Those accounts serve the same function within the Qur’an that Exodus 34:29-35 serves for the Torah and the Transfiguration accounts serve within the Synoptic Gospels, to validate those writings that became canonical and normative for communities of faith and not merely considered to have been the opinions of religious leaders.

2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2

It is unfortunate that this text speaks disparagingly about the Exodus 34:29-35 account and about the “old” covenant in its effort to hold up the “new” covenant as superior. It would have been possible and certainly preferable simply to have added the new revelations to the earlier ones without denigration of the former. We may even wonder whether the interpretation given in this text to the veiling of Moses’ face in Exodus 34:29-35 is not in some respects a form of “tampering with God’s word” in the very “disgraceful and underhanded ways” that are condemned in the final verse of this 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 reading. At any rate, the Exodus 34:29-35 and the Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) texts are so significant that in our proclamation next Sunday we have no need to base a portion of our message on this 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 segment.

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

The Lukan writer, like the Matthean redactors, retained a Markan text here and kept it in the same context that it has in Mark. The changes made by the Lukan writer may be noted briefly as follows: Mark’s “after six days” became “about eight days after,” perhaps to place the Transfiguration on the first day of the week, the “Lord’s day.” The Lukan writer characteristically inserted “to pray” (v. 9:28d) and “during the time that he was praying” (v. 9:29a), drawing lines more closely to the Lukan account of Jesus being baptized. Luke provided substance in 9:31-32 to the conversation between Moses and Elijah in glory and Jesus. The conversation centers around Jesus’ departure in Jerusalem. The reference to the sleepiness of Peter, of James, and of John suggests a connection to the text about Jesus in Gethsemane and to the darkness of night. Only the Lukan writer has the disciples and Jesus coming down from the mountain on the next day rather than on the same day. In Luke the voice from the cloud calls Jesus “my Chosen Son” rather than “my Beloved Son.” Finally, Luke has Peter speak only as Moses and Elijah were leaving.

As in Mark and in Matthew, the principal purpose of Luke’s Transfiguration account appears to be to validate the words of Jesus as the Christ. Like the others, Luke’s account shows that Jesus is indeed in the same league as Moses (a symbol of the Torah) and as Elijah (a symbol of the Prophetic traditions). More than that, Jesus is shown to be not equal but greater in importance than the representatives of the Israelite/Jewish Scriptures, for when the cloud and darkness pass away only Jesus is there. At the sound of the voice of God from the cloud proclaiming Jesus to be God’s Son, God’s Chosen Son, the representatives of the Israelite/Jewish Scriptures have vanished into the darkness. They are presented as having been summoned from the past only that they might disappear in the light of this new Chosen Son of God. Jesus and the Word of God through Jesus replace the chosenness of Israel as God speaks to the three disciples the words about Jesus, “Listen to him!”

The miracle of the Transfiguration of Jesus and of the summoning up of Moses and Elijah all serve the validation theme. The account indicates that Jesus and Jesus’ message are valid for us. It makes relatively little difference, therefore, whether we consider this to be a “Resurrection appearance” text or not. It functions here to point ahead to the cross, to the resurrection, and to the ascension glory of Jesus. The use of this text is appropriate here at the end of the Epiphany Season and just prior to Lent.

The “miracle” today lies in our acceptance of Jesus as Christ for us. Jesus, too, comes now out of our past to speak to us and through us in our particular life situations. What does Jesus as the Christ say to us this year where we are, and how shall we respond to what he says? This will be our agenda next Sunday and during the Lenten season.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen