"There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of"

Tom Bartolomeo
2nd Sunday Lent C 2013
Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27;
Philippians 3,17-4,1; Luke 9: 28b-36
Reproduced with Permission

"The Lord God took Abram outside and said, "Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be." (Genesis 15, 4). How many stars would that be? With what instruments will we count their number? Who will ever reach the outer edge of space to count them, or how many trillions of light years away are they beyond our calculation? The only greater mystery - was Abram's capacity to become a "father of many nations" at the age of 100 and his wife Sarai at the age of 90 - an infertile and childless couple! And today 'Abram-ham', is the father so many Jews, Catholics, Christians, Muslims and others who claim their ancestry from Abraham so far back in time before the invention of numbers and the alphabet we have no date certain of Abram's encounter with God. Who could possibly conspire such a story which plays out so forcefully in human history, past and present?

What then should we make of the gospel story of the transfiguration of Jesus (also in the line of Abraham through David)? Christ's three favorite Apostles, Peter, James and John find themselves in a dream-scape with Jesus and two sojourners also in the line of Abraham, Moses and Elijah. They are enveloped in so radiant a light that the Apostles are lulled into and "overcome by sleep". Then suddenly Peter awakes and half-consciously "said to Jesus, 'Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah'." Why? Was the experience so heavenly that they would stay there forever? But then "a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud" now fully awake and motionless and heard "a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." In the blink of an eye it was over. They returned to earth "alone" with Jesus and "they fell silent." (Luke 9: 28b-36).

We are a long way from the time of Abraham, "our Father in faith" which you will hear commemorated in this Mass. We are not so long away from the time of Christ, however, less than twenty generations ago. On a clear night we can still look up at the sky and try to count the stars. On Mount Tabor in Israel we can still make the difficult climb 'alone' after the tourists have gone as I have. Or we can make an account of ourselves today before God as Saint Paul did when he confessed that he was "the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because [he] persecuted the church of God" (1 Corinthians 15:9). Following his conversion he calls out to us to "be imitators" of him "and conduct" ourselves "according to the model" we have in the saints. "For many", Paul acknowledged, "as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ." Do I need to tell you why the Holy Father, Benedict the 16th, is resigning the papacy at 85 so weakened in body and limb "even in tears" fending off "many . . .", who today, "conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ [?] Their end is destruction", Saint Paul reminds us. "Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their 'shame.' Their minds are occupied with earthly things" just as they were among Paul's congregation when he spoke to them. (Philippians 3, 17-18).

We will hear these same sentiments repeated by Christ Himself while carrying his cross to Calvary on Good Friday. We will be told on that day:

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' (Luke 23:27-29).

For those whose "citizenship is in heaven" - they will endure as Saint Paul would have them - "eagerly wait for our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ . . . . Therefore, my brothers and sisters," he tells us, "whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord." (Philippians 3: 19-21-4: 1). Shall we be among the "descendants" of Abraham, among the stars Abraham gazed upon?