Today’s Gospel is replete with teaching about Jesus. Notice first of all that:
While Jesus was praying, His face changed in appearance, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His exodus which He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
The meaning is clear. Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the most charismatic figure among the OT prophets were speaking with Jesus about His imminent exodus, Passover, in Jerusalem; thereby telling us that the Law and the Prophets of Israel were indeed, at their deepest level and in accordance with the intention and purpose of their supreme Author, speaking of and preparing for Jesus. We can therefore, and indeed we always should, with humble confidence and deep gratitude, seek to learn from the foreshadowing of Jesus to be found in the writings of the Old Testament.
God spoke frequently to Moses from the cloud which accompanied Israel throughout her desert wanderings:
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain … and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.” Moses went up into the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain. Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:12, 15-18)
In some such way Moses was taught by God throughout Israel’s journeying to the Promised Land. Notice, however, that here in our Gospel reading, God the Father -- again speaking from the cloud -- told the disciples Peter, James and John:
This is My chosen (beloved) Son. Hear Him!
That would seem to imply that no longer would there be a voice speaking from the heavenly cloud to the new Israel, but that the words of Jesus Himself would be all that could be needed. Indeed, the Father’s words would seem to proclaim Jesus as God, speaking for, on behalf of, and with the authority of, the Father Himself.
There is yet more, however. Those final two words Hear Him contain and convey a command for all Christians, meaning ‘hear and obey’. There, indeed, we have the first of all commandments for Christians, a command which Jesus Himself confirmed:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
However, those words of the Father convey much more than a mere commandment to hear and obey Jesus; there is also an invitation -- a most intimate invitation indeed -- to know Him in such a way as to love Him; love Him, that is, not simply according to our own measure but in obedience to, together with, and in imitation of, the Father Himself. Although Jesus, for His own part, is most humble, being well-satisfied if we keep His commandments, which are, for Him, sufficient proof of our authentic love, in it’s initial stages at least; nevertheless, those words of the Father, not only indicate the extent of His love for, and appreciation of, His Son -- ‘My beloved Son’ -- but also, surely, express His desire that those privileged to hear Him should also learn to love Him as the Father Himself loves Him. Indeed, there is even an implication that the only true knowledge of Jesus is one which promotes such appreciation of Him, that calls for, sustains and nourishes, and ultimately demands supreme, all-consuming, love for Him:
This is My chosen (beloved) Son. Hear Him!
If we now turn our attention back to the first reading where:
Abram put his faith in the Lord, Who credited it to him as an act of righteousness;
that initial faith of childless Abram, soon to be named Abraham and destined to become the father of Isaac and Jacob needed, in the meantime, to be strengthened for his own imminent trials and also for those of all who would subsequently rejoice in his blessing:
The LORD said to Abram: ‘Know for certain that your descendants shall be aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation they must serve, and in the end they will depart with great wealth. You, however, shall join your forefathers in peace; you shall be buried at a contented old age.’ (Genesis 15:13-15)
Therefore, as an unforgettable support for such enduring faith in Abram himself and subsequently in Israel, Abram was given – as you heard -- a mysterious vision with a sublime promise. Abram himself had had some part to play in that vision, for he had brought the animals called for by the Lord, then prepared and arranged their corpses in accordance with his native Chaldean covenantal prescriptions; and had then stayed beside them to protect their integrity as sacrifices until such time as the Lord God Himself had appeared, under the same fiery symbol He would later use again in the incidents of the burning bush with Moses, the column of fire guiding Israel through the desert of Sinai, and ultimately the tongues of fire descending on the disciples of Jesus at Pentecost.
When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those (sacrificial) pieces.
Such was the awesome background to the Lord’s words of covenantal sustenance for Abram’s faith:
To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.
Abram -- subsequently named Abraham – lived St. Paul’s exhortation in our second reading to the utmost, stand(ing) firm in the Lord, and thereby meriting the title of ‘our father in faith’. Let us, therefore, keep our eyes firmly on him whose faith in God’s promise was so mysteriously confirmed by the Lord’s fiery self-manifestation -- as fire-pot for food and flaming torch for light -- passing between the orderly, sacrificial pieces of flesh set up by Abraham; for, would not Jesus subsequently say to the Jews:
Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day; he saw it and was glad. (John 8:56)
Let us keep our eyes even more firmly fixed on Mary, whose supreme faith in God’s promise was likewise tested and confirmed: initially by the awesome mystery of the Lord’s conception at the Incarnation, before being ultimately crowned when her heart was pierced by the sword as her dearest Son and sovereign Lord suffered His bloody Passion and Death on Calvary.
Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord had promised her would be fulfilled.
Yes we should closely observe and carefully imitate both Abraham and Mary, that we ourselves may consider with delight and observe with love the supreme mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection likewise given us here at Mass for our enduring confirmation and constant growth in the faith we have received from God the Father. He it was Who first drew us to Jesus, and today He renews His choice by calling us once more this Sunday to hear His Son speaking clearly and surely to us in and through His Church; and to learn, by the Spirit – the hidden and abiding treasure of our Communion at Mass -- to share yet more in the Father’s own love for His beloved Son, our self-sacrificing Lord and Saviour.
People of God, there is no faith without promises, there is no faith without mystery; and our Christian faith, in its ultimate awareness of and response to the totality of human nature and experience, expresses divine goodness through unimaginable -- yet supremely desirable and fulfilling, -- promises together with unfathomable -- yet most satisfying and credible -- mysteries. There, indeed, lies an inescapable tension, but it is one designed not for our destruction but for the ever-continuing and harmonious development of all our human capabilities given us in the ‘image and likeness of God’.
Promises and mystery are not to the liking of modern secular society where tangible, controllable, and immediately profitable activities and experiences are sought at every level. All too often, for such people, as St. Paul said in the second reading and as our daily experience tends to confirm ever more emphatically:
Their God is their stomach, their glory is in their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things, and their end is destruction.
For us, however:
Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord.