We should reverence every word of the Scriptures, the same way we reverence every particle of the consecrated host. -Origen
This particular reading for this Sunday is not one that I am unfamiliar with. In fact, it’s one of the most important readings in the book of Genesis. In these short paragraphs we see the promise that God has given to Abraham which will lead to the inclusion of the gentiles in God’s plan of salvation. God leads Abraham out of his tent and tells him to look to the sky and count the stars, if he can. “Just so[...] shall your descendants be.” What a promise! Oh how difficult it is to number the stars. With the science of today we know that they are innumerable, a vast expanse of flickering bodies beyond any count that man can hope to endure in a single lifetime. The thing is, there is something much more deep and powerful about this reading.
If you take just a moment to examine the text, it appears God asked Abraham to count the stars in the middle of the day. Later in the next paragraph Scripture records “As the sun was about to set…” Again in the third paragraph, “When the sun had set….” Counting the number of the stars at night would be a daunting task. Something difficult at best, but something a man might fancy he could begin to do if given enough time. To count them in the day though? You can’t even see them. Maybe that was the point… Abraham knew the stars were many. He had seen with his own eyes throughout the previous night times of his long life, maybe even laying out in the hot desert air gazing up at the stars thinking about what life means and who God is. Here he was asked to count something he couldn’t see, but knew was there. Just like the promise… Abraham could not see his descendants, he couldn’t possibly count them.. but he knew they were going to be there. That’s why the Scriptures record Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6) Though his vision was limited by his own experience, by his own bondage to temporal time, he knew that God would provide those descendants, just as he knew the stars were truly there behind the azure blue of the day-lit sky.
I can’t help but imagine that Moses and Elijah too felt the same way when they hid in the cleft of the mountains. They hid their face as God passed by, but surely they longed to see God face to face. To gaze upon the beautiful countenance of their beloved. Do we often think about that when we consider the transfiguration? Only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of him whom they sought. (CCC 2583) How powerful a moment this must have been for Peter, James and John as they witnessed this moment. The moment when the Law and the Prophets came face to face with the incarnate. This moment of awe must have been both edifying and frightening. Peter declares that he wants to build three tents here to remember this scene forever. Peter probably didn’t do it just out of awe, but maybe out of fear. Jesus had been continually telling his Apostles about his mission. Here Moses and Elijah appear and begin to speak about what is going to happen in Jerusalem to Jesus. Peter in his fear, in his dread for what will happen to his friend, to his master, wants to stay here. If we just stay here we will never have to see you die! We can just stay here and be happy. He couldn’t see. The sun was in his eyes as he tried to count the stars, he couldn’t see God’s plan.
Isn’t that the way it truly is for all of us too? God asks us to count the stars and we look up to find they aren’t visible. Instead of simply trusting that they are there, we begin to make our own plans. We try to make our own stars. We wait a time until the stars we think we want begin to appear and we count those, instead of taking a moment to simply to trust God’s plan. Like Peter we want to build a tent in a comfortable place. Our intentions might even be good. Peter did not say something insulting, in fact for most men it would be flattering.. to be honored and venerated in this place where the Sacred had touched the earth. That wasn’t the plan though. That was less than what God wanted to give him. Often the stars we try to form with our own minds and lives are insufficient for the glory God wants to offer to us.
Paul reminds us of this in the reading from the epistle to the Philippians. He talks of those people who make their god their stomachs, their minds occupied with earthly things. (Phil 3:19) They are trying to make their own stars instead of counting the ones God has offered them. Paul tells us this makes them enemies of the cross. Yet, for those who cling to the Gospel given them by Paul and imitate him as he imitates Christ, for those who trust that the stars are there even when they can’t see them, Paul shares that we too shall experience a transfiguration:
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.
Yet, for those who cling to the Gospel given them by Paul and imitate him as he imitates Christ, for those who trust that the stars are there even when they can’t see them, Paul shares that we too shall experience a transfiguration.
That’s our goal in life. To be so conformed to Christ that we become little Christ’s. Christ’s whole earthly life - his words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking - is Revelation of the Father. (CCC 516) That is how we count our stars, that is how we too can show that we believe. That is how it can be accounted to us as righteousness.. if we too through our words and deeds, our silence and sufferings, if our very manner of being and speaking points to Christ. Then we too, with Moses and Elijah can stand proudly in the presence of our God and King, looking on him face to face. No longer hiding in the rock, no longer fearful of destruction, but transformed into our glorified selves. Are you ready to trust?
His servant and yours,
"I must decrease, he must increase."