2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2: Mirror, Mirror

Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019

Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

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.

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, put a finger in 2 Corinthians to hold that place while I read the gospel lesson, because I’m going to be coming right back to 2 Corinthians. But let’s go ahead and read the gospel lesson from Luke 9:28-36, which starts on page 900.

Gospel Lesson: Luke 9:28-36

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 changed, 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.

Now hold that place also, because I’m going to come back to it. But first let’s look at 2 Corinthians starting at 3:15. The “their” that Paul is referring to is folks who have not heard or have not accepted that Jesus Christ fulfills all of the law and the prophets.

“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.”

These few verses from chapter 3 of 2 Corinthians are so astounding to me that I can hardly believe they are true. And yet, here they are, laid down in black and white for all of us to read.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

There are lots of ways to think about freedom. Sometimes we talk about freedom to, as in freedom to worship, freedom to speak, freedom to pursue happiness. Sometimes we talk about freedom from, as in freedom from hunger, freedom from oppression, freedom from fear. When Paul says “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” he’s talking about one of the freedoms from: freedom from the impossibility of earning salvation through observance of the law. For Paul, this was the heart of the gospel: in Christ, there is no need to try to win our salvation through observance of the law, because Christ is the fulfillment of the law—and the prophets—and because Christ lives in us that fulfillment of the law lives is us. We are free. Astounding!

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.

There are also lots of ways to think about looking in a mirror:

  • “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” So inquired the Evil Queen in Snow White. She looked into the mirror to compare herself with all other women, and she was consumed with envy and jealousy. When the mirror answered, “Famed is thy beauty, Majesty. But hold, a lovely maid I see. Rags cannot hide her gentle grace. Alas, she is more fair than thee,” the jealous queen replied, “Alas for
  • The poet Sylvia Plath looked into her mirror and saw herself consumed with age. Her mirror says, “A woman bends over me, Searching my reaches for what she really is. . . . I see her back, and reflect it faithfully. She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands. . . . In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman Rises toward her day after day.”
  • But Paul tells us that when we who have freedom in Christ look into our mirrors, we see reflected back the glory of the Lord, because we are being transformed into the very image of God’s glory, little by little, from one degree to another. We are free. We are the image of God’s glory. Astounding!

These are two truths that Paul proclaims in his second letter to the Corinthians. And for me they raise two questions:

  • Can I believe it?
  • Can I let it change how I see others?

Peter, John, and James were given the astounding gift of seeing the glory of the Lord as he prayed on Mount Tabor:

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 changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory . . . . 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” . . . While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them . . . . Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Peter had no trouble believing that he had seen the glory of God in Jesus as he stood with Moses and Elijah. He knew without having to be told that he was seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of the law—represented by Moses—and prophets—represented by Elijah. What Peter had trouble with was taking this knowledge back down the mountain and allowing it to make a difference in how he saw and interacted with the world. Peter’s impulse was twofold:

  • Let’s stay up here and build three dwellings and never leave this mountain. That is the impulse of the woman who looks in the mirror with a desperation to hang on to her youth. Peter cannot understand that the only way to hang on to Christ in his glory is to go back down the mountain and face his death.
  • His second impulse is revealed the next day in two incidents:
    1. 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.”
    2. An argument arose among [the disciples] as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”

That’s the impulse of the evil queen who looks in her mirror with a craving to hoard all of the beauty she sees for herself. If Peter—or the other disciples for that matter—saw in himself any of the glory of God after seeing it in Jesus, he saw it only as something to cling to. He saw it as his own to use not for the sake of others but for his own sake. Peter has not yet grasped that the only way to participate in Christ’s glory is to give it away, to reflect it back into the world in acts of mercy and humility.

The Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton describes his own realization that we are all touched with the glory of God and that it must be reflected back into the world like this:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, . . . I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs . . . It was like waking from a dream of separateness . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God . . . became incarnate. . . . If only everybody could realize this! But . . . there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . . It was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. . . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point . . . is the pure glory of God in us. . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.[1]

All of us . . . 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.

  • Can I believe it?
  • Can I let it change how I see others?

The irony of this truth—that we are being transformed into the glory of God—is that allowing ourselves to see it in others is how we come to believe it of ourselves. Thomas Merton’s realization was that the glory, the beauty, the timelessness, though it shines in our faces like the sun, does not belong to us but to God. It is entirely at God’s disposal and not subject to our will at all. To see it, to believe it, to let it transform how we see others, we just need to let go of it.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Ah! It’s you! Walking around shining like the sun. . . . May we all learn to see each other as we are seen in God’s eyes. Amen.

[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday: 1966), 140-142.