Lectionary Commentaries for February 27, 2022
Transfiguration of Our Lord

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]

Sarah Henrich

Coming at the end of the Epiphany season, this passage from Luke not only provides insights to the invited apostolic trio, but specifically invites us readers/hearers in to share the excitement.  “Behold” (verse 30) is lost in the NRSV translation, but still appears in the NKJV. “Hey, look,” (idou) is the word to direct our attention away from the gleaming face and garb of Jesus only to include a larger scene where Moses and Elijah were also appearing in glory. Luke has a way of shifting focus from a particular event to God’s larger work and purposes. (Note Mary’s song, Simeon’s song, and Jesus’ words in Nazareth in Luke 4).

The scene will shift back to Jesus only at the end (verse 36), just at the point where Peter, James, and John, having seen Jesus in the larger setting, are enjoined by him to silence about the whole of it. At the point where it comes in the narrative, this story is clearly for Peter, James, and John and for the readers/hearers who are invited into the inner circle. It may also be for Jesus himself.   

The passage is so rich in detail and allusion that I refer you to any commentary, including commentaries in Working Preacher, for great work on significant details that highlight many possible preaching themes.  In this short essay, we’ll look at the narrative context of this scene and then at a few points unique to or especially salient within Luke’s version that gives particular opportunities in Year C.

One of the noteworthy aspects of verses 28-36 is that they are embedded in prayer. Proseuchesthai shows up twice (verses 28, 29) right at the beginning. In the very moment that Jesus is praying, the appearance of both his face and clothing changes. Luke frequently centers epiphanies of Jesus’ connection with God in prayer. Note 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, for examples up to this point. Prayer, communion with God, is very often associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ life, beginning with baptism. It is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit that empowers Jesus for healing, for the calling of the Twelve, for enduring the temptations, and for speaking truth. 

That same brilliant spirit of God shines on and in Jesus and Moses and Elijah as they gather to speak of Jesus’ coming exodus (verse 31). All of Scripture (The Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah respectively) is enlisted as pointing to the future passage through death to glory of God’s anointed one. God’s own faithfulness is borne out in the trustworthiness of Scripture (Luke 24:27), witnessing as it does to the suffering of the Messiah that precedes his glory.

Another important aspect of Luke’s story is the number of terms having to do with looking and seeing (or the opposite). Eyewitnesses were vital to the handing on of Jesus’ story in a reliable way (see also Luke 1:2; Acts 1:21-22). Because “glory” is a visible aspect of God’s holiness and majesty, eyewitnesses were vital to handing on this experience of Jesus’ tangible glory, a glory puzzling and yet hope-giving. The passage turns on seeing the appearance of Jesus’ face, the gleaming clothing, the call to “behold,” the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the “seeing” of Jesus’ glory and the two men (verse 32), the visible cloud which once protected Israel from the sight of God or from the sound of God’s voice (Exodus 20: 18-21, 24:15-18, 34:29-35) and now shielded Peter, James, and John from seeing God. This is a passage where seeing is very important but needs the support of God’s voice to bring even limited understanding to the three followers. It might be noted that human voices, even as Peter, for example, tries to interpret what is happening before his eyes according to Scripture, are not able to articulate what has happened.  When the men come down the mountain, they keep silent, telling no one what they had seen.     


Since we are also invited to see, we are left trying to articulate all that the vision includes. There is no way to do that without reference to the word “exodus” in verse 31. While sometimes translated as “departure,” this word which occurs nowhere else in the gospels is too rich in nuance to simplify. Only Luke gives the content of Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah, highlighting the importance of that conversation about exodus and offering a unique opportunity to the preacher to make the connections for her audience. Like Moses before him, Jesus is given an experience of God and God’s majesty. Like Moses, in spite of being chosen, he is not granted easy passage. The word exodus is a reminder of plagues, blood, the death of first-born sons, and the unremitting recalcitrance of the oppressive power of the Egyptians.  

The connections with Exodus (and with Elijah) remind hearers/readers that God will deliver God’s people from slavery as often as God must do it. An exodus from under the power of any oppressor has a cost. Jesus must “set his face like a flint” to get to Jerusalem (9:51). The three disciples who will follow that road with him have seen the glory that awaits and find the path to Golgotha deeply confusing. Jesus’ exodus will deliver even from the power of death, not just death-dealing powers-that-be, but death itself. That cannot be clear to Peter, James, and John until it has been accomplished.

The reactions of disciples in this story are worth attending to. It is only in Luke’s story that the three are “heavy with sleep.” There is debate about whether they succumb to it and awaken in time to “see his glory” or whether they remain awake. The participle is an aorist form and can be translated either way.  Let the preacher make a choice! Whatever you choose, their eyes are open in time to see the whole scene and to do their best to grasp it.

One more word: although Peter, James, and John have this awe-some experience, the other nine follow Jesus on his exodus journey without that experience. We are probably, most of us, more like the nine who go along anyway, except that now the experience of hope beyond the difficulties of our journeys is also given to us.

First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 34:29-35

Justin Michael Reed

When Moses comes down from meeting with God on Mount Sinai, the text repeatedly notes that the skin of his face was shining (Exodus 34:29, 30, and 35). Rather than ask Moses what skin care routine helped him to achieve such notable radiance, Aaron and the Israelites react with fear (verse 30).

For centuries, Moses’ terrifying visage was often described as “having horns” rather than “shining.” An early translation of the Bible into Latin (by Jerome in the 4th century CE) popularized the notion that Moses had horns in the Christian world, and many famous artistic renderings of Moses carried on this tradition. This interpretation is not as far-fetched as it seems at first blush since the Hebrew root used here (qrn) occurs dozens of times in the Bible to unambiguously indicate an animal’s horn. However, most modern scholars agree that other early translations (like the Septuagint in the 3rd century BCE) are correct in describing Moses as glowing, not horned.

Whether one envisions antlers or an afterglow, this passage presents an unsettling tension for the people: the word of God that the Israelites need to live by ironically comes from Moses’ frightening face (verses 33–35). Furthermore, this incongruous pairing of that which is terrifying and nurturing comes about because of Moses’ proximity to God.

Moses’ face symbolizes an unlikely pairing of the deadly and life-giving. It may seem strange at first, but it is a fact of life worth recognizing. And the Israelites in the Bible had experience with this difficult tension because it is a persistent element of their relationship with Moses and God leading up to our passage.

In Exodus 19–20, God is both deadly and necessary to their survival. The emancipated Israelites arrive at the wilderness of Sinai where the God who orchestrated their salvation shocks them with blasting noise, billowing smoke, and a fiery presence upon the holy mountain. Since this terrifying exhibition of God’s holiness is dangerous, there are limits and protocols when approaching God (Exodus 19:10–13, 20–24). 

God begins a special covenant relationship with all the people listening to God proclaim the “The Ten Commandments” (Exodus 20:2–17). But God’s audience narrows to only Moses by the end of the chapter because the people fear that proximity to God’s instructions (which they need to learn) can also be deadly (Exodus 20:18 – 21).

After Moses receives God’s teachings for the people, another episode illustrates the tension between the deadly and life-giving. At the end of chapter 31, Moses is ready to return to the people, but it is too late. Exodus 32 relays the infamous “Golden Calf” incident where, in response to Moses’ prolonged absence, Aaron and the Israelites create an idol in direct violation of God’s word from Exodus 20:4–6. In those verses, God not only forbids such a practice, but God also expounds on the gravity of the issue: “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” God can punish severely or show steadfast love; in this case, the covenant breakers should expect punishment.

God tells Moses the plan: God will destroy the Israelites and start a new nation through Moses (Exodus 32:10). Unlike Noah, who received a very similar proposal from God (Genesis 6:13, 18), Moses does not accept the offer for God to start over with him. Moses advocates for the sinful people. 

He appeals to God for a different course of action—not because the people deserve it, but because all who witness the survival of the Israelites can testify that God’s promises are trustworthy (Exodus 34:11–13). It works! God relents when Moses uses his close relationship with God as a conduit to secure blessings for others regardless of their merits.

But the Moses who saves the people is also a terror. After God relents, Moses succumbs to violence when he sees the sin of the people with his own eyes. In a fit of rage, Moses assembles an armed troop and orders them to kill “your brother, your friend, and your neighbor” (Exodus 32:27).

In yet another episode, the tension between deadly and life-giving leans decidedly toward life. After God has assured Moses that God’s presence will guide the people in spite of their obstinance, Moses requests to see God’s “glory” (Exodus 34:18). As with the example from Exodus 19–20, a close human encounter with God’s holiness can be deadly. So, God grants Moses only a partial view while saving Moses from a fatal look at God’s face (Exodus 33:20–23). But this visual revelation (which leaves an indelible mark on Moses’ visage) is coupled with an equally profound revelation of God’s character that has lasting significance for the people.

In Exodus 34:6–7, God discloses the essence of God’s nature: “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” Although these words are similar to what God voiced in Exodus 20:4–6, there is a noteworthy difference as well. Here, God foregrounds grace, mercy, and forgiveness that is not based on faithfulness to God’s covenant. 

As God’s people continue to live in the difficult space where that which they need for life can be deadly, and as the people perennially fall short in their covenant with God, many hold tightly to this idea of a merciful and gracious God (see also Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13). This new identity of God animated by compassionate forgiveness explains how God can relent from rejecting the people who have just broken the covenant. And the perspective that God’s steadfast love and unmerited forgiveness outweighs punitive justice becomes a beacon of hope for fallible people facing the great tensions of a dangerous and uncertain world.

The symbol of Moses’ frightful face conveying the nourishing word of God in our lectionary reading can remind us that we can be honest about the odd and terrifying aspects of life while also putting our hope in a vision of the God who can sustain us.


Commentary on Psalm 99

Rolf Jacobson

Psalm 99 is one of a small set of psalms that exuberantly proclaim the counter-cultural message that the Lord reigns as king over the entire universe:

  • “The Lord is king! Let the peoples tremble!” (99:1)
  • “The Lord is king, he is clothed in majesty” (93:1)
  • “The Lord is a great God, and a great king above all gods” (95:3)
  • “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!’” (96:10)
  • “The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice!” (97:1)
  • “Make a joyful noise before the king, the Lord!” (98:6)
  • “For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! (47:7)
  • “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of God … the city of the great king” (48:1a, 2b)

These psalms are known as the enthronement psalms, or more simply as the yahweh mālāk psalms, after a key phrase that occurs in many of these psalms. The key phrase yahweh mālāk  is usually translated as “The Lord reigns” or “The Lord is king”. Not to be confused with the royal psalms that celebrate the human, Davidic king, the enthronement psalms celebrate Israel’s God Yahweh as the universal, divine king.

For Christians who are well-accustomed to confessing either “Christ the king” or “God the king,” it may be easy to miss the astonishing, counter-cultural claim of these psalms. But if we take a little time and exercise a little imagination, we can tune our ears to hear the proclamation of these psalms. Imagine where this psalm and others were performed in the ancient world: in a modest little temple (let’s be honest), on a smallish mountain (Zion), in a tiny little kingdom (Judah) that was constantly being dominated by the great empires of the age (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Seleucid, Rome, et cetera). In that setting, some priest, poet, or prophet struck up the courage to announce that its God—the Lord—was the king of the entire earth and heaven. And therefore “the peoples” should tremble because he is “exalted over all the peoples.”

Seriously? We can be pretty sure that the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Seleucids, and Romans were not overly impressed. They were often quite annoyed by this little kingdom Judah, whose people so often rebelled against their imperial control. But they were not too impressed, as one imperial official—the Assyrian Rabshakeh—warned the Judeans during King Hezekiah’s rebellion of 701 BCE: 

Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! … “Do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, ‘Yahweh will deliver us.’ Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered its land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the countries have delivered their countries out of my hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’” (1 Kings 18:28b, 32b-35)

And yet, the priests, poets, and prophets of Judah continued to walk in faith and confess to the world in song: “The Lord is king! Let the peoples tremble!” 

After its initial claim that “The Lord reigns” or “The Lord is king,” the psalm continues to blend more calls to praise with a series of epithets about the Lord.

Let them praise your great and awesome name!

He is holy!

Strong king! Lover of justice!

You have established equity.

Justice and righteousness,

You have provided in Jacob.

Extol the Lord our God;

Worship at his footstool!

He is holy! (verses 3-5)

Having already recalled the name of Jacob as a metonym for the entire nation, the psalm now evokes the names of three key ancestral leaders—Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. The mention of Moses and the recollection of the theophany at Sinai in which the Lord “spoke to them in the pillar of cloud” is clearly the reason the psalm is assigned for this week. But in the psalm’s internal rhetoric, where the psalmist has just called upon “all the peoples” to “praise your great and awesome name” (verse 3), the three ancestors are recalled because they were “among those who called on his name. They cried to the Lord, and he answered them” (verse 6). The psalm then concludes:

O Lord our God, you answered them;

You were a forgiving God for them,

And an avenger against their wrongs.

Extol the Lord our God,

And worship at his holy mountain;

For the Lord our God is holy! (verses 8-9)

The Lord both forgives and avenges. It is not clear whose “wrongs” the Lord avenges. The enemies of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel? Perhaps. But it is more likely that the sense is that the Lord both forgives their sins and yet holds them accountable. The stories of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel would confirm this interpretation, since they experienced both God’s grace and also God’s accountability.

The psalm’s climactic note sings praise to the Lord because he is holy.  Three times—in verses 3, 5, and 9—the psalm asserts the holiness of the Lord. The first two times the psalm simply states, “he is holy!” The third and final time there is a slight variation, “The Lord our God is holy.” Following the interpretive principle of repetition, we may conclude that this phrase is the central theological confession of the psalm.

But what does that even mean? We say it so often—God is holy—that the sentence has practically lost all sense of meaning. The basic sense of the Hebrew root qadash is “to set aside” or “to be set aside.” That is, to be different.

My generation uses the adjective “different” negatively. “Well, he’s different”—meaning “strange”. Or, “That was different”—meaning “not something I want to experience again”.

But my son’s generation also uses the adjective “different” positively. “Oh, I’m different now, I’m different!”—meaning “awesome at something.” After making a great play in athletics, a kid might yell out, “I’m built different!” Meaning “tremendous.”

When we call God holy, we mean a bit of each of these. God is holy, different—God’s presence is scary, unpleasant for those unused to it. For humans, God’s presence is even dangerous. But mostly, God is different because God is awesome, excellent, tremendous.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2

Lois Malcolm

This passage is all about hope. But when Paul speaks about hope, he has something very specific in mind—the hope linked with the new age that the Messiah Jesus’ suffering and death has ushered in. So, what is this hope that he associates with Jesus? And what does it mean for us—today—especially when so much of the world within and around us seems to contradict it? 

Hope, Parrhesia, and Moses’ Veil

Paul begins by associating hope with “parrhesia” (3:12). The Greek word parrēsia is usually translated as “boldness,” but in ancient Greece it actually had to do with the kind of free and open truth-speaking that only takes place among equals (in other words, in a democracy).1 In a somewhat similar vein, the Septuagint associates parrhesia not only with the biblical events of Exodus and Sinai (Leviticus 26:13), but also with the personified figure of Wisdom, who cries out in the public square (Proverbs 1:20). 

Paul contrasts such parrhesia with Moses’ “veil” (3:13). As the story goes, after Moses had received the tablets with the commandments, his face shone so brightly that he frightened the people. Thus, he put a veil on his face, to protect them from its dazzling brightness. However, we should note, he would take the veil off whenever he would go before the Lord to hear the Lord speak and then tell the people what he had heard.  One could say that “unveiled” he spoke with the parrhesia that only comes from hearing the Lord speak (Exodus 34:29-35).

Hardened Minds and the Spirit of the Lord

This vignette about Moses and the veil in Exodus occurs right after the story of the Golden Calf, which describes how the people built an idol to worship while Moses was away receiving the tablets with the commandments (Exodus 32-34). Thus, when Paul says that the people’s “minds were hardened” (3:14), he is alluding to the way their desire for a god they could fabricate, and bend to their wishes, had become a kind of hardened “veil” for them, which kept them from hearing what God was saying through Moses (or the Scripture). Only the Messiah could “set aside” this veil (3:14). Only in this way could a “new covenant” be written on their hearts, where everyone—from the least to the greatest—would know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

We must note, especially given Christian anti-Semitism over the centuries, that at the time Paul wrote this letter, the messianic movement around Jesus was still a sect within Judaism. Further, Paul was not addressing “Jewish legalism” in this letter, but the misuse of spiritual power related to false claims rival apostles within this messianic movement were making about Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel (11:4) and what it means to an “apostle of the Messiah” (11:13) in the service of “righteousness” (3:9; 11:5).

In fact, these “super-apostles,” and those they seduced within the Corinthian congregation, may have more in common with contemporary Christians than we might think. We too would often prefer to keep our “veils” intact rather than take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by coming to grips with the shame and resentment we often project onto others. 

The Lord Is the Spirit

Paul goes on to say, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (3:17). I think we best interpret this verse by holding together—while also distinguishing—Paul’s various allusions. Given the Exodus passages Paul has been interpreting, “the Lord” in 3:17 obviously refers to the Lord at Sinai. Nonetheless, it is precisely this “Lord” (of Sinai) that he is equating with “Spirit” (of the messianic age), who would write the law on the people’s hearts (3:3).2 At the same time, we need to keep in mind that Paul usually refers to the Messiah Jesus as “Lord” and that he, at times, appears to equate the “Messiah,” raised from the dead, with the “Spirit” (for example, Romans 8:9-10), even as he also distinguishes “Messiah” from “Spirit” in most other contexts.

Reflecting and Beholding the Glory of the Lord

With all these allusions, Paul seeks to communicate to his readers that through the Messiah’s sufferings and consolations “all of us” now can, indeed, enjoy the freedom of being “unveiled.”  All of us now can both “see” and “reflect” (as the verb katoptrizesthai in the middle voice indicates) the glory of the Lord in our own and one another’s faces (3:18; 4:4). In this way, the Spirit writes the law—the Torah—on our hearts, conforming us together to the image of the Messiah, who as God’s Wisdom becomes within and among us “a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of God’s goodness” (Wisdom 7:26).

Of course, Moses directly mirrored the Lord’s glory in its “transcendent blindingness,” but we whose hope lies in Messiah only “transmit the subtle and subsumed splendor of God’s abasement.”3 Through a slow, and at times painful transfiguration, we are literally  “metamorphosized” (metamorphoumetha) as we see and reflect God’s image in Jesus—carrying around in our bodies his death so that his life might be manifest in those very bodies (4:10-11).  

Renouncing Shame and Manifesting Truth

This now is why we have hope, and why we need not lose heart. Amidst whatever is taking place in our lives, God’s mercy is at work. Thus, we can boldly renounce the shame we would rather hide and the pernicious things it would make us do. We no longer need to be cunning or calculating; we can face up to the ways we deceitfully use God’s word to buttress our interests. Instead, we can embody parrhesia, commending our very selves to everyone’s conscience before God with sincerity and an open manifestation of truth (4:1-2).


  1. Michel Foucault, “Discourse and Truth” and “Parresia” (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2019).
  2. See also Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26.
  3. Samuel Terrein, The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), p. 458.