SFX Bulletin, 24 February 2013: Governments struggling to reverse shrinking population trends in their countries must surely wish that more of their citizens could be like Abraham who delighted in having descendants countless as the stars in the sky (cf. Gen.15:5).
From Abraham’s grandson Jacob, came the twelve tribes of Israel which formed the Jewish nation. The Jewish people are extremely proud of their direct ancestry from Abraham but Jesus would emphasise that the true child of Abraham must be one who resembled what Abraham did – most notably, “put his faith in the Lord” (Jn 8:39;Gn.15:6).
Jesus, a direct descendant of Abraham, whose ancestry had been recorded by Luke as originating from God (cf. Lk.3:23-37), is seen in today’s gospel doing what a true child of Abraham should do – keep close communion with God through prayer.
Luke does not explicitly tell us the content of Jesus’ prayer. However, in the miracle of Jesus’ transfiguration which caused the appearance of his face to change and his clothing to become “brilliant as lightning”; in Moses’ and Elijah’s conversation with Jesus “of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (v.29-31) and in the voice from the cloud that said, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him” (v.35), Luke reveals that Jesus’ prayer concerned his disciples’ inability to grasp the significance of his death on the cross and the resurrection that would happen three days later.
The transfiguration was a foretaste of the glorious body of the resurrected Jesus to show the disciples the victory over death for all those who carry “the cross of Christ” (Phil.3:18). This cross – a symbol of rejection and humiliating death – would now become the way to resurrection into immortality. It would be placed on those who are faithful to God’s “rule of life” – a rule founded on truth and on love for the most needy. This way of life is mocked by those who put “earthly things” in the first order of importance (Phil.3:19).
Jesus’ death is intimately tied up with the covenant that God made with Abraham to bless him with land and children. Following the covenant ritual of Abraham’s day, animals were cut in half and the contracting parties walked through the halved animals as an undertaking that they would meet death like the cut animals should they break the covenant. In the covenant with Abraham, God undertook full liability for it was God, symbolised by the “smoking furnace and a firebrand (blazing torch)” (v.17) that passed between the halves. Addressing the seemingly absurd question of how God could possibly suffer and die in undertaking this covenant, our Holy Father said, “The bleeding head, crowned with a wreath of thorns, the crucified Lord, is the answer. The Son of God has borne the curse of the broken promises of the children of Abraham…For God, man is so important as to be worthy of his own passion” (Pope Benedict XVI, Journey To Easter, pg.68).
Abraham’s descendants broke the covenant by becoming people unrecognisable as Abraham’s children. Unlike Abraham who had “put his faith in the Lord” and emulated God’s protection and mercy in the rescue of Lot and the intercession for the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 14&18), many Jews had deviated from the intent and heart of God’s word and created a form of worship centred on over 600 regulations that did not help nurture the holiness and love befitting the title of Abraham’s or God’s children.
Jesus’ death is the paid liability that restored God’s covenant with Abraham perfectly. Through baptism and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the process of our own transfiguration has already begun with the fire of the Holy Spirit and the light of Christ within us. Blessed to be called to this family of grace and love, let us pray unceasingly for help to make our words and deeds reflect our dignity as God’s children. In this way, we can look forward to Brother Jesus’ return, the definitive moment when he will “transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).