During Lent, the Old Testament readings focus on Israel’s salvation history as the presupposition of, preparation for, and in some respects a prefigurement of, the redemptive act of God in Christ. Each Sunday, we hear of a significant event from salvation history; this week, we hear of the first time that Moses found himself in the presence of God. On that occasion, Moses learned God’s personal name. It is a name that is at one and the same time simple but difficult to understand. Various writers have spilled gallons of ink to explain what the name “I AM” means.
On one level it is simply a statement of existence. I AM. However, in Hebrew the words appear in the causative tense, something that does not exist in English. The Hebrew could be rendered, “I AM the One who creates or causes things to exist.” It is not so much a name as it is a function. God says, “I Am the Creator, the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Not only that, the Hebrew also carries with it a sense of the future and could be rendered, “I AM the One who will make things happen, who will cause things to exist.”
God is sending Moses as a messenger. The message is contained in God’s name. God goes on to explain to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” This explanation explains why this is a prefigurement of the redemptive act of Jesus. Just as God knew that the Israelites were suffering in slavery, God also knows that we are suffering as slaves to sin. Just as God sent Moses to tell the Israelites that God was going to lead them to freedom, God sent Jesus to announce that God can lead us out of slavery to sin if we embrace God’s love.
In the first Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul illustrates this further by speaking of the cloud, the sea, the manna in the desert, the water that Moses brought from the rock, and the rebellion of the children of Israel in the desert. God went before them through the desert in the appearance of a cloud. God led them through the sea when Moses lifted his staff over it. God rained down manna when they grew hungry in the desert. God provided water when Moses struck the Rock with his staff. However, the Israelites continued to grumble against God and rebelled. Consequently God refused to let them enter the land flowing with milk and honey until all those who had rebelled died in the desert. While the lectionary translation reads “These things happened as examples for us,“ another way to read it is “These things were types of us.” St. Paul is citing these types or events to show us that Christ is leading led us through the desert of Lent to the waters of baptism and thus to the gates of heaven.
In the Gospel, some in the crowd ask about an incident where Pilate had some people killed as they were offering sacrifices for their sins, mingling their blood with the blood of the sacrifices. This makes them think that they must have been very guilty of sin. They then ask about some people who were killed by a crumbling tower. Were they also guilty of sin? This past week, 90% of the city of Beira, Mozambique, a city of a half a million people, was destroyed by Cyclone Idai. Thousands of acres of Nebraska and Iowa were devastated by floods this week? Were these people guilty as well? Jesus, Paul, and Moses all turn the question back to us. Why do we delay in turning away from sin and embracing repentance for our sins and conversion to a sinless life? Why do we continue to rebel against God just as our ancestors did? Show your concern for those who have suffered death and natural disaster by being the agents of God’s love for them. Beyond that, be concerned about what will happen to us if we fail to repent. There will come a time when the fig tree that bears no good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Cyclones and floods and men like Pilate are facts of life in this imperfect world. Jesus has led us out of our slavery to sin just as surely as Moses led Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. Now is the time to turn to God. Now is the time to turn away from sin and return to God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator