Father Donald Senior, CP

March 17: Second Sunday of Lent

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Count the stars, if you can

Gn 15:5-12, 17-18; Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14; Phil 3:17—4:1; Lk 9:28-36

The first reading for this Sunday is the account of God’s covenant with Abraham, the father of many nations. God begins with the amazing promise that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. God realizes this is a big number and gives Abraham an out — count them, “if you can.” 

If God were speaking to Abraham today, he might refer the patriarch to the results of the Hubbell telescope, perhaps the most amazing and successful scientific project in history. Orbiting some 350 miles above the surface of the earth and thus free from the distortion caused by the earth’s atmosphere, the incredibly sensitive lens of this telescope has revealed some of the overwhelming secrets of the universe.

For example, it has numbered the stars of our Milky Way Galaxy as over 100 billion. Even more astounding, it has estimated that the number of galaxies in the entire universe at more than 2 trillion — 10 times more than scientists had previously guessed. 

Now for the answer to the question God posed for Abraham, this means that the total number of stars in the universe is 200 sextillions (think, if you can, of a number with 23 zeroes after it). And, scientists conclude, this number of stars is, in fact, more than the number of the grains of sand in all the beaches of the world — another measure for the number of Abraham’s descendants suggested by God in Genesis 11:17.

Where, you might ask, am I going with this bit of scientific wonder? The readings for this Sunday, especially the first reading from Genesis about God’s covenant with Abraham and the Gospel account of the Transfiguration, confront us with a vision of God’s awesome transcendence. 

For the reading from Genesis we have the vast scope of God’s promises to Abraham, a “wandering Aramean” as last Sunday’s quote from Deuteronomy described him. The Scriptures portray Abraham, whose origins are in Ur of the Chaldeans (present day Iraq), as a man in search of God. He is prompted to travel west toward what would become Israel and there encounters the mysterious presence of God who promises him a life more abundant than Abraham could ever imagine. 

Later, too, after Abraham has married Sarah and both were in their old age without a child, God promises again that, even though Abraham thinks of his own body “as good as dead,” new life will come.

Here we have an affirmation that runs throughout the Bible: the awesome, transcendent God, a Being beyond our imagination, is yet one who cares in a tender way for seekers like Abraham and Sarah.

This awesome encounter is also the meaning of the transfiguration, a mysterious event recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels.

As Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem and his encounter with opposition, rejection and death itself, his trusted disciples, Peter, James, and John, experience Jesus in a manner they had not seen before. While praying on the mountaintop, Jesus’ appearance is transformed. The luminous reality of his divine status shines forth in the beauty of his countenance and his clothing becomes “dazzling white.” 

The scene seems to draw on the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses the great liberator is there and so, too, is Elijah, the greatest of Israel’s prophets. A cloud overshadows the mountain, just as it had when God forged the covenant with Israel at Sinai. Most astounding of all, the voice of the transcendent God speaks: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

This mysterious moment reveals to us the full identity of Jesus. He’s fully human as he makes way toward his passion in Jerusalem and fully divine, as Pope Francis has described, “one who is the human face of God’s mercy.” Jesus fuses in his very being the awesome and transcendent God of the universe with a tender mercy and care for us in our everyday lives.

This is one of the reasons we take time in Lent to deepen our awareness of God’s awesome and loving presence in our lives


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