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Use the 1.page.bible.timeline to track the major stops on the bible’s “roadmap.” On the left, are boxes that go up like stairs…1 Holy Couple, 1 Holy Family, 1 Holy Tribe, etc. Today’s reading comes from the 1 Holy Tribe box– the covenant between God and Abram (later, Abraham).
1st Reading: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
If the bible is a “roadmap” and the destination “Heaven,” it helps to know the major stops along the way. We might say creation is the starting point. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God’s original plan of perfect love between God and man was thwarted. The problem of sin was born. The solution to that problem, we’ll see, is Jesus. Between creation and the arrival of Jesus in the manger, a lot of important things happened.
Today is a really important Old Testament stop. Today marks the “birth” of the nation of Israel, also known as God’s chosen people. This group has many names in the OT: “Israel,” “Israelites,” “Jews,” “Hebrews,” “Daughter Zion,” “Children of Abraham,” and more. Whatever you call them, this group is the main character for the rest of the OT.
READING: THE COVENANT WITH ABRAM
When God first called Abram it went something like this: “Abram, I want you to pack up everything you own, trust in my plan for your life, and go to the land of Ur.” That’s one tall order. God went on: “If you trust me I will bless you with 1) descendants, 2) a land flowing with milk and honey (the promised land), 3) a kingdom, and 4) through these descendants, all nations will be blessed (a worldwide blessing).”
Today we see the part where Abram learns about the 1st blessing – descendants. Abram is asked to count the stars. God says they will be as numerous as the descendants he will have (even though he and Sarah are childless). As the reading goes on, we see God actually make the covenant – a serious, unbreakable, lifelong vow with Abram and all who will follow. Abram asks for a sign from God about God’s promises. God says, “OK Abram. I will give you a sign. Go get a variety of animals, split them in two and put them opposite each other to form an aisle.” Abram obliges. After dark, God – in the form of a smoking fire pit and a flaming torch – goes down the aisle. The act of going down the aisle is how God seals the contract – it’s like his signature. From that time on, God keeps His Word.
There are some interesting links here. 1) A deep sleep fell upon Abram, just as one fell upon Adam, just as one will fall Peter, James, and John in today’s gospel, and just as one will fall upon the disciples in the Garden. When disciples “fall asleep”, God does important work. Out of Adam’s side came woman, out of Abram’s “side” comes a new nation, out of the disciples comes a new church. 2) The God-Abram covenant calls to mind the marriage covenant, when a man and a woman also walk down an aisle. They vow to love and cherish one another for life, and seal a covenant. When you attend a wedding, you sit on one side or “half” of the aisle. When the covenant is sealed, the people on the left side of the church comprise half of the new family (broadly speaking). Those on the right comprise the other half of the newly formed family.
At our baptism, we “sign” a covenant with God. In marriage, we sign a covenant with another person and with God. How are you doing in your covenant relationships?
Responsorial Psalm 27:
“The Lord is my Light and my Salvation”
The psalm is always a response to the first reading. God sealed the covenant with Abram in the form of light (smoking fire and flaming torch). The refrain speaks of the Lord as light itself, a theme that returns in the gospel.
2nd Reading: Philippians 3: 17-4:1
Phillipi was a Roman province. It was an important city for retired military (think Boca Vista). Having dedicated their lives to Caesar, the inhabitants valued their Roman citizenship. Citizenship in Phillipi translates to citizenship in Rome. Paul wants to show them a similar link – that citizenship in Christ’s church translates to citizenship in Heaven. He challenges them to look beyond and see themselves as citizens of heaven in addition to being citizens of Rome.
In light of the above, we see Paul’s clever word choice – it has a militaristic twist. It’s a pep talk soldiers might hear before going into battle – a call for unity and support of one another. “Join with others in being imitators…”; “many conduct themselves…as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach, their glory is in their ‘shame.’”
To “make God your stomach” is to seek out physical nourishment that fills us up temporarily, (food, a new car, riches, technology), versus spiritual nourishment that fills our souls and lasts. If ordered correctly – God first and then the things we enjoy (new car, riches, technology), our earthly desires absolutely have an appropriate place. But God wants to be first. How well-balanced is your physical vs. spiritual nourishment?
GOSPEL – Luke 9:28b-36
In today’s gospel, we’re standing at one of the main NT stops: The Transfiguration. Before these verses, Jesus had just foretold his death to the disciples. They were probably distraught to hear Jesus talk of his death, so perhaps the transfiguration served as spiritual nourishment (as noted in the 2nd reading). Maybe Jesus wanted to reassure them that He is God’s son by demonstrating this reality before their very eyes.
At the top of the mountain while Jesus was praying, Peter, James and John see his clothes “become dazzling white.” When Jesus prays – when he communicates with The Father – He emits a blinding, pure light. Recall that in Exodus, Moses also came down the mountain after communicating with God and was glowing white. His was a reflective light. Here Jesus IS the light, it comes from within.
The reading goes on to say that Peter and his companions – like Abram and Adam before them – had been overcome by sleep. A divine light woke them up to see Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Let’s stop here and do some basic math:
Moses (the law) + Elijah (the prophets)=Old Testament.
Jesus = New Testament.
Moses + Elijah + Jesus = The fullness of the scriptures.
On the mountain, these men embody the fullness of the scriptures. That is an awesome reality to ponder for a moment. Here we have the Old Testament “talking” to Jesus, the New Testament. What are they talking about? The subject is the Exodus (“Exodus” means “a journey from slavery to freedom”). In the OT, Moses’s Exodus was physical. He led the people out of Egyptian slavery into a land of freedom. The NT Exodus Jesus will soon lead is spiritual. He will lead us out of a spiritual slavery (sin) into spiritual freedom (salvation). Atop the mountain, Jesus is answering the Old Testament – answering it by fulfilling it.
Lastly, God says to them from a cloud, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.” In sum Peter, James and John get a glimpse: Jesus is the answer. Jesus is the New Covenant. He fulfills the old one. And we must listen to Him.
This week, reflect on the words from God the Father, and consider how you might spend time listening to Him in silence. Take a long walk without headphones. Drive without the radio on. Sit in adoration without route prayers or booklets. Sometime this week, just “be” – and see what He says.
May God bless your week! Come back next week to dig into Moses and the Burning Bush and the peculiar role of the fig tree in the gospel.