Tag Archives: Moses

A Theophany of Communion

Icon of the Transfiguration by Alexander Ainetdinov. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Feast of the Transfiguration (Year A)

Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

The Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the last of the biblical theophanies, unfolded the deepest secret of divinity hidden from Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Horeb. 

Unlike the Old Testament theophanies, in which God spoke to his prophet one on one, or “face to face,” three witnesses were present on Mount Tabor. The first peculiarity of this mountain theophany was its communal aspect. Jesus took a trinity of disciples, Peter, James and John, his inner circle.

And he was transfigured before them;  his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

A trinity of mortals suddenly found themselves beholding a trinity of prophets in the dazzling light of the transfigured Christ. Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Moses and Elijah), exchanged greetings with his predecessors.

James and John were speechless, but Peter felt compelled to say or do something, anything.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

“He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified,” Mark reported (9:6). Peter was ready to take charge of the situation, though he barely understood what was happening. His instinct for hospitality came forth spontaneously as he offered to house Jesus and his illustrious companions. Jesus was, after all, his house guest. 

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said,“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 

“The heavens are my throne,
the earth, my footstool.
What house can you build for me?
Where is the place of my rest?” (Isaiah 66:1)

The same voice that spoke to Isaiah now spoke out of the cloud, but it was no longer solitary. The God of Isaiah who could not be confined in houses made by human hands has a Son! With the Father and the Son, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was also present in the light of glory. 

This was the second time the son of a carpenter from Nazareth was addressed by the Father as “my beloved Son.” The first time was at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (Mark 1:11). 

When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.

The traditional icon above portrays Peter on the left, kneeling, John in the center falling prostrate with his back to the light, and James knocked backward in awe. 

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.  

The unearthly light disappeared, but what an unforgettable experience! It would seem that anyone who witnessed Jesus in such blazing glory should have had enough confidence to stand fast with him in the garden of Gethsemane. But that was not so. And perhaps that was why Jesus ordered silence.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Cross was the pivot between two extremes. The mortality of the Cross stood as crux between the glory of incorruptible divinity on Mount Tabor, and the glory of incorruptible humanity at the resurrection. The infinite and the finite, divinity and humanity, entered into incorruptible, inseparable, indivisible glory in the multi-personal unity of the Trinity three days after the crucifixion.

Whereas Moses and Elijah only knew God as monad, and therefore spoke to him as a bride to a bridegroom, the marriage of humanity and divinity opened the way to a communion of persons transcending the marriage of two natures. At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John, a trinity of disciples, received a foretaste of the multi-personal communion of saints in Trinitarian Light.

-GMC

Kingdom of the Little Ones

Fra Angelico, Coronazione delle Vergine (1435)

Deuteronomy 7:6-11, 1 John 4:7-16, Matthew 11:25-30

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

“God is Love.”

Like an owl squinting in sunlight, the eyes of humankind open gradually to the truth of who we are as a people and who God is. “You are a people sacred to the Lord,” Moses told the Israelites. Bending to the weakness of human mistrust, God made an “oath,” a covenant with his people, though Jesus would later exhort them not to swear at all. No gap lies between a divine word and its fulfillment, after all. The oath was for Israel, not for God.

The engagement between God and his people was also very fuzzy, like a picture out of focus. The “I AM” of the burning bush was personal, but faceless. “No one has ever seen God,” and yet, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said (John 1:18; 14:9). 

The identity of the mysterious YHWH began to focus a little bit more as Jesus shared with his disciples the heart of the Father, and promised to send them the Advocate, the Spirit of truth. 

As God’s identity was revealed, Israel’s began to sharpen into some clarity. God is not only One, but Three. Israel, the precursor of the Church, is not only a people, but persons. 

Moses consecrated Israel as a “sacred people,” a nation set apart. The Holy Spirit consecrated the disciples as unique persons when he descended upon each one with a distinct tongue of fire.

“Love” is not an abstraction, but a concrete reality with concrete faces—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each unique person baptized by the Spirit in one Body of Christ. The finite and the infinite, the created and the uncreated are united in communion in a way beyond conceptual grasp.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Joachim, the Holy Innocents, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. John, St. James (son of Zebedee), St. James (son of Alpheus), St. Andrew, St. Philip, St. Bartholomew, St. Thomas, St. Matthew, St. Simon, St. Jude, St. Matthias, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Timothy, St. Titus, St. Priscilla, St. Aquila and all the saints to the present day each shine with unique splendor in heavenly communion.

The eternally young, ever-begotten Son of the Father who became the microscopically small son of Mary with a tiny beating heart invites us to become little with him. Mysteries that elude the “wise and the learned” are revealed to “little ones.” 

-GMC

Whose Wife Will She Be?

King Kalakaua’s Torah and yad in display case at Temple Emanu-El, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Licensed by Wmpearl under CC0 1.0.

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Mark 12:18-27

What is it like not to believe in a spiritual realm? If reality is confined only to the material, sensible world, the focus of one’s energy might be to preserve and perpetuate one’s existence in time as long as possible—the family name and property. 

A theoretical question was put to Jesus by the Sadducees who did not believe in an afterlife or spirits: Suppose seven brothers die in succession after marrying one woman, and the woman finally dies. “At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be?” The Sadducees were confident that the question would expose the absurdity of an afterlife.

Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.”

There is more to life than meets the eye. The unseen realm exists, Jesus said, and it far surpasses the bodily existence of this life. What exactly the angelic life will look like for humans was not spelled out, but it most certainly lies beyond marriage and family ties. 

Jesus then appealed to the written Torah (the Pentateuch), which the Sadducees accepted as most authoritative: “As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God told him, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly misled.”

The patriarchs who preceded Moses are alive, Jesus said, though again not spelling out any details of the how or where. The text was given not so much as a “proof,” as words can be interpreted in many ways, but was presented in a new angle to open the eyes of the Sadducees who had developed tunnel vision. Jesus shattered the assumption that life simply ended with death.

The odd thing is that the Sadducees believed in the God of Moses who is spirit. From their sect came most of the priests who performed the Temple sacrifices. If human existence was only confined to this earthly life, their God must have been very remote and cut off from earthly affairs. Spirit and matter did not touch. How shocking then, to meet a man who claimed to be the Son of God who will rise from the dead. 

The teaching authorities of the people who waited for centuries for the Messiah were very unprepared for a Christ come in the flesh. “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” Jesus warned (Matthew 16:6).

If the idea of an afterlife was unbearable to the elite of Jesus’ people, one only wonders what Jesus held back when he said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now” (John 16:12).

-GMC

The Last Days of Moses

The Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy describe the journey of the Israelites from Egypt up to their entrance to the Promised Land, but these books are also a biography of Moses, their great leader. They describe 120 years of Moses’ life and what he did and said.

Today, we’re reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. (Dt 31, 1-8) As his life is about to end, Moses says to the Israelites after delivering three long sermons: “I am now one hundred and twenty years old and am no longer able to move about freely.” Then he gives over his leadership to Joshua. He’s not going to cross into the Promised Land.

He doesn’t speak so much about himself or his accomplishments, his failures or regrets, as his life ends. Rather, he speaks about the Lord God and what God has done. It’s not me, it’s not Joshua, it’s not human power and wisdom that will be with you, Moses says to the people. “It is the Lord, your God, who will cross the Jordan before you.”

His words to Joshua are in the same tone:
“Be brave and steadfast,
for you must bring this people into the land
which the Lord swore to their fathers he would give them;
you must put them in possession of their heritage.
It is the Lord who marches before you;
he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you.
So do not fear or be dismayed.”

Moses’ last gift to those who follow him is a fearless faith. A great gift to pass on.

A Pew Survey awhile ago mentioned that some scientists think we will live to 120 years old in the future. The survey asked representatives of the various religious traditions what they thought about it. I noticed the Jewish response was for it. Were they thinking of Moses?

God of Tents, Clouds and Fire

On their journey through the desert they set up a meeting tent:

“Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses.
On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and worship at the entrance of their own tents. The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

The tent, the cloud, the pillar of fire were signs of God’s dynamic presence, a presence not fixed, but leading them to another place. The Exodus story is a story of God’s presence leading humanity on.

God leads them to a place they don’t know. God’s not a wall making them safe and settled; God’s on the move, and God moves them on.

In his book “The Mystery of the Temple” the theologian Yves Congar, OP, says we need these “long” Old Testament stories to remind us of the dynamic presence of a God of tents who is a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

God is our guide, the only map we have, who moves each of us and all of history to a new stage. “We are always tempted to confine ourselves to what we see and touch, to be satisfied with this and to think that a preliminary achievement fulfills God’s promise, ” Congar writes.

“Abraham thought God’s promise was fulfilled in Ismael, Joshua thought it was the conquest of Canaan. Solomon thought it was in his immediate descendants…”but these promises were capable of more complete fulfillment which would only materialize after long periods of waiting and urgently needed purification. Only the prophets–and this, in fact, is their task–draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises and to the progress of the latter towards their accomplishment through successive stages of fulfillment continuously transcending one another.” (p 31-32)

We may think it’s the end, but it’s only a beginning.

Finally, God speaks most familiarly with Moses in the desert, a place of homelessness and unease, the Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

Will that be true for us too? Does God speak most familiarly with us when we’re in the desert, not sure where life is heading?

Complaining in the Desert


The Israelites were not at their best in the desert. The food was certainly better in Egypt, but complaints about food was just one of their gripes. They also complained about Moses, who led them, and Moses complained to God about the grumbling people he’s called to lead:

‘“Why do you treat your servant so badly?” Moses asked the LORD.
“Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people?
Was it I who conceived all this people? Or was it I who gave them birth,
that you tell me to carry them at my bosom, like a foster father carrying an infant,
to the land you have promised under oath to their fathers?
Where can I get meat to give to all this people? For they are crying to me,
‘Give us meat for our food.’
I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me.
If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.”’ (Leviticus 11, 11-15)

You can’t speak more “face to face” to God than that. That’s one thing we learn from the Old Testament: you can complain to God. The Jews did it in the desert, we can do it too.

I forget the ratio, but I think the psalms of lament (complaints) in the Old Testament are only slightly less than psalms of thanksgiving. God doesn’t mind complaints.

The Cross in Early Christian Art

cross, 4th Century Sarcophagus, Rome

Cross, 4th Century Sarcophagus, Rome

There are no realistic representations of Christ Crucified and his passion in early Christian art. Realistic portrayals of Christ on the cross and his passion only appear in the early middle ages in the western church. The Crucifixion of Jesus was only portrayed symbolically at first, as in the example above, and early on appears in a variety of ways.

The Anchor Cross

anchor 4

Travelers from one port to another on the Mediterranean Sea at the time of Jesus were never sure of a safe passage until they dropped anchor. The anchor became the symbol of safe arrival, and so ancient seaports on the Mediterranean like Alexandria and Antioch adopted the anchor as a symbol for their city.

Early Christians used the anchor as a symbol of their hope of reaching a heavenly port, the kingdom of God; they inscribed it on their burial sites  in the catacombs to express their hope in Jesus Christ. The anchor closely resembles a cross and early Christians surely saw its resemblance. It’s the most common and sometimes only mark found on the earliest Christian graves in the ancient Roman catacombs of Priscilla, Domitilla and Callistus.

“Pax tecum,” “Peace be with you” the inscription (above) next to an anchor on one of these gravesites reads; the name of the deceased has been half-destroyed by grave robbers looking for valuables long ago. “Eucarpus is with God” we see in another below.

anchor 3

One reason early Christians hesitated to portray the crucifixion of Christ realistically was because the practice  was still  common in the Roman world until the Emperor Constantine  banned it in the 4th century. With crucifixion still before their eyes, Christians would hardly want it portrayed realistically in art, even if it were the crucifixion of the Savior.

FullSizeRender

The oldest known portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus, (left), is a mocking graffiti found on the wall of a barracks on the Palatine Hill in Rome, showing a crucified man with the head of a donkey, and before him a man with hand raised to the image. The Greek inscription from about the year 220 AD reads: “Alexander worships his god.” Undoubtedly, an instance of a Christian being mocked for belief in Jesus crucified.

The first centuries of Christianity, in  fact, produced little art. For one thing, it inherited a strong iconoclastic tradition from Judaism. The 2nd century writer Justin Martyr also offers another explanation in his Apology disputing Roman claims that Christians were atheists and a danger to society. Justin acknowledges they had no temples, no statues of gods, and did not participate in the rites of prayer as other Romans did.  But Christians were loyal Romans who believed in God, Justin argues. They worship, though, in their own homes and pray there to a God who cannot be imagined or adequately portrayed. (Apology 9,67)

Great Christian churches and shrines were not built till the 4th century, after  emancipation by the Emperor Constantine. Before that, Christian art is found mainly in the catacombs, where Christians buried their dead.

Moses strikes the Rock, Noah saved by the wood. Catacombs

Moses strikes the Rock, Noah saved by the wood.
Catacombs

The art of the catacombs, which are located mostly  around the city of Rome, comes down to us in a fragile state and can be hard to decipher after being underground for centuries. Its simple symbolic style can leave its powerful religious significance unappreciated. Art historians lament its lack of style compared to the sophisticated Roman art of its day.

The writings of Justin Martyr and other early Christian writers may help us better understand its simple, powerful message. In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Justin uses a list of Jewish scriptures that he claims predict the coming of Christ, his life, death and resurrection. The core of these scriptures, commonly used by other Christian writers of his day–Tertullian, Barnabas, Irenaeus– were already used in the preaching message of the New Testament to prove that “all the prophets bear witness” to Christ, the promised Messiah. (Acts 10,43) Jesus, of course, was the first to appeal  to Moses and all the prophets to show why it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer. (Luke 24,26-27)

These same Jewish scriptures influenced the formation of the gospels. Other references were added in time and became part of early Christian baptismal catechesis, Christian worship and decoration for the  Christian resting places of the dead. The Jewish scriptures are the key to understanding the art of the catacombs.

In his Dialogue with Trypho Justin proposes to his Jewish opponent scriptures such as Psalm 22 and the Servant Songs of Isaiah 53, that indicate God’s plan to send a suffering Messiah who would redeem his people. These same scriptures shaped the accounts of the passion of Jesus in the four gospels.

In the 86th chapter of his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin lists other scriptures, beginning with the tree of life planted in paradise, that reveal the saving power of the wood of the cross. That saving wood was prefigured in the wooden rod Moses used to bring water from the rock in the desert and divide the sea for his people to pass over. The cross was prefigured in the ladder Jacob saw mounting to heaven. Abraham saw it in the oak at Mamre and in the wood Isaac carried to his sacrifice. David saw the cross in the tree planted by running waters, mentioned in Psalm 1. The cross was signified in the wood that saved Noah from the flood.

MOSES ROCK *

Isaac carry the wood of sacrifice. Roman catacombs.

Isaac carries the wood of sacrifice.
Roman catacombs.

Many of these Old Testament figures connect wood with water and feature in the early church’s catechesis and rites of initiation. The same catechesis speaks to the dead resting in the catacombs, who  believed in Christ. Through baptism and the sacraments Jesus Christ would bring them, through the mystery of his death and resurrection, to eternal life.

In other parts of the Dialogue, Justin offers the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, and other Old Testament stories as images that speak of the Passion of Jesus. All these “signs” also appear extensively in the art of the catacombs.

3 children 1

Daniel in the Lion's den. Catacombs

Daniel in the Lion’s den.
Catacombs

In the 55th chapter of his Apology Justin adds signs from nature and human society to expand his argument for Christianity and the mystery of the cross, A ship can’t sail and arrive at its destination without a sail; a field can’t be plowed without a plow. Both of these are in the form of a cross. Human beings themselves are made in the form of a cross, Justin emphasizes. Figures with arms outstretched, Orants, appear everywhere in the catacombs. They imitate Christ who prayed with arms outstretched on the cross, and his prayer was heard. (Tertullian, On Prayer 14)

Orans, Catacomb

Orans, Catacomb

Noah saved by the wood of the ark. Roman catacombs

Noah saved by the wood of the ark.
Roman catacombs

The art of the catacombs found mostly in the 40 or so catacombs around Rome, offers a rich fascinating look at early Christian belief. Today In the Catholic Church’s prayers for the dying we can still hear the figures portrayed there  invoked once more.

“Welcome your servant, Lord, into the place of salvation…Deliver your servant Lord, as you delivered Noah from the flood, Deliver your servant, Lord, as your delivered Moses from the hand of Pharaoh. Deliver your servant, Lord, as you delivered Daniel from the lions den. Deliver your servant, Lord, as you delivered the three young men from the fiery furnace. Deliver your servant, Lord, as you delivered Job from his sufferings. Deliver your servant, Lord, through Jesus our Savior, who suffered death for us and gave us eternal life.” (Roman Ritual)

Good Shepherd, Old Testament figures of the Passion. Catacombs

Good Shepherd, Old Testament figures of the Passion. Catacombs

3rd Sunday of Lent

Some of the biggest  questions we have about God are found in the scripture readings at Mass today. Is God  punishing us through tragedies like earthquakes, or accidents or  acts of violence that suddenly happen. Does God care?

Those question were asked of  Jesus in today’s gospel. (Luke 13,1-9)  His listeners wonder why 18 people were killed in a recent construction accident in Jerusalem. A tower fell on them? Why did those people  die in a riot that the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, put down  by slaughtering everyone in sight?

Jesus answers that  God’s not punishing those involved in those tragedies. Tragedies are part of life; they’re sharp reminders that life on earth isn’t permanent or without risk. Jesus says  be ready for the moment that God calls you.

There’s another question, though. Does God care about it at all? And here we can turn to the 1st reading from the Old Testament about Moses and his vision of God on Mount Horeb. (Exodus 3, 1-15) Moses at the time was a man on the run. He’d killed an Egyptian and had fled from Egypt to hide as a shepherd in the Sinai desert. His people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt.

As he ascends the mountain tending his sheep, he sees a burning bush and suddenly hears a voice. “Don’t come any nearer. Take the shoes off your feet; you’re on holy ground…I’m the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses was afraid, a normal reaction to God who is beyond anything we know.

But then God begins to speak words of love and concern.

“I know the affliction of my people in Egypt; I hear their cries of complaint against their slave drivers; I know well what they are suffering.
So I’ll 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.”

“I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” God says. “I have ties with the world before you were born and I will care for the world when you are long gone.”

The encounter that Moses has on the mountain is our encounter with God too.

We know what followed Moses vision on Mount Horeb.  He returns to Egypt and with God’s help brings his people out of Egypt. God’s presence isn’t always obvious as they journey through the desert for 40 years. But God is faithful and he brings them to “a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey.”

Does God care for us. Yes, he does.

As we go further into the lenten season, we come to another mountain that’s burning with fire too. We’ll see  a Cross and a man hanging there. He knows our sorrows and shares them too. He’s God  come to us, to lead us and all the world from slavery to freedom, in a good land where sorrow and pain are no more, where we will be with our good God forever.

I’m preaching a mission at  the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. It begins at all the Masses this weekend. Each evening at 7 I’m preaching during an hour service and at Mass 12.15 each day, Monday to Thursday. I’ll put some material from the mission on this website. Pray for the mission.

Moses and the Quest for God

Moses

120 years old. That’s how old Moses was when he died, according to the Book of Deuteronomy, which we’re reading today at Mass.

Biblical exaggeration we wonder? Maybe. Yet scientists said recently life expectation in our society might be heading to 120 in the future, so perhaps we need to look at Moses a little more closely. Our society is aging.

The 4th century Cappadocian mystic, Gregory of Nyssa, in his classic study “The Life of Moses” considers Moses, not mainly as a leader of the Israelites, but rather as a example of the way God calls all of us. His life shows us our way to God.

Gregory divides the life of Moses’ 120 years into 3 parts. The first part of his life (Exodus 2, 1-15) is marked by dangers. Pharaoh has decreed that all Jewish new born boys be killed, but Moses is taken by his mother after his birth and placed in the river in a little boat ( the word for Moses’ boat in Exodus is the same word used in Genesis for Noah’s ark) In the river of life, Moses is protected by God and has a mission to fulfill. We too have been placed in the river of life, in God’s boat as it were, and have a mission to fulfill.

Adopted and brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses enjoys the gifts of Egypt. Like him, we’ve been given many gifts in life. We have to use them well, wherever they come from. Gregory writes. That’s a way to make the journey.

Moses’ first forty years end with the killing of the Egyptian and his subsequent flight to the desert of Midian. Choosing to stand with his own people Moses chooses to stand with God. In life we’re constantly called to make this same crucial choice. If we wish to see the face of God, we must choose it.

The next forty years Moses spends in solitude in the mountains of Midian where he lives a simple virtuous life, which prepares him to meet God in the burning bush. Then, at eighty years, he’s sent on to the next stage of his life: leading his people through the desert to the promised land.

Eighty years old– hardly a good time to begin such a momentous task. But Gregory of Nyssa sees Moses’ life as an inward journey, rather than an outward one. This is more than an historical journey. It’s a journey that doesn’t stop, defying age and the circumstances of life. One is never too old, or too young, for this inner journey. Gregory describes it beautifully in “The Life of Moses.”

“…the great Moses, becoming ever greater, never stopped his ascent, never set a limit to his upward course. Once setting his foot on the ladder that God set up (as Jacob says) he continually climbed to the step above and never ceased to rise higher, because there was always a step higher than the one he attained…though lifted up through such lofty experiences, he’s still unsatisfied in his desire for more. He still thirsts for what seems beyond his capacity… beseeching God to appear to him, not according to his capacity, but according to God’s true being.

“Such an experience seems to me to belong to the soul who loves the beautiful. Hope always draws the soul from the beauty that’s seen to what ‘s beyond; it always kindles the desire for what’s hidden from what’s now known. Boldly requesting to go up the mountain of desires the soul asks to enjoy Beauty, not in mirrors, or reflections, but face to face. “ (Gregory of Nyssa)

In his final instructions to his people before his death, Moses does not offer words of human advice gathered from his years. He leaves no memoirs, no recollections. God will be with his people as God was with him. Beyond land or treasures of human conquest, they will see the face of God.

Questions About God

Some of the deepest questions we ask about God are often answered in the scripture readings we listen to at Mass. For example, we ask sometimes if God is punishing us in tragedies like earthquakes, or accidents or those occasional acts of violence that suddenly happen. That’s the question Jesus answers in today’s gospel (Luke 13,1-9) as his listeners wonder why 18 people were killed when a tower fell on them, or why were people allowed to die in some riot that the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, put down  by slaughtering everyone in sight.

Jesus tells them God’s not punishing the people who were involved in those tragedies. Tragedies are part of life; they’re sharp reminders that life on earth isn’t permanent or without risk. Jesus says you have to be ready for the moment that God calls you. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls;” it tolls for you and for me.

Another question we ask is quite different. Does God care about us at all? And here we can turn to the 1st reading from the Old Testament about Moses and his vision of God on Mount Horeb. (Exodus 3, 1-15) Moses at the time was a man on the run. He’d killed an Egyptian and had fled from Egypt to hide as a shepherd in the Sinai desert. His people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt.

As he ascends the mountain tending his sheep, he sees a burning bush and suddenly hears a voice. “Don’t come any nearer. Take the shoes off your feet; you’re on holy ground…I’m the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses was afraid, a normal reaction to God who is beyond anything we know.

But then God begins to speak words of love and concern.

“I know the affliction of my people in Egypt; I hear their cries of complaint against their slave drivers; I know well what they are suffering.
So I’ll 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.”

“I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” God says. “I have ties with the world before you were born and I will care for the world when you are long gone.”

The encounter that Moses has on the mountain is our encounter with God too.

We know what followed Moses vision on Mount Horeb.  He returns to Egypt and with God’s help brings his people out of Egypt. God’s presence isn’t always obvious as they journey through the desert for 40 years. But God is faithful and he brings them to “a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey.”

Does God care for us. Yes, he does.

As we go further into the lenten season, we come to another mountain that’s burning with fire too. We’ll see the sign of a Cross and a man hanging there. He knows our sorrows and shares them too. He’s God  come to us, to lead us and all the world from slavery to freedom, in a good land where sorrow and pain are no more, where we will be with our good God forever

3 Sunday of Lent.