“I have seen the miserable state of my people in Egypt. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that land to a land rich and broad, a land where milk and honey flow.”
With these words the God of Israel revealed himself to Moses, bringing hope to an enslaved people. Here, at the burning bush, the gulf between God and sinful humanity was decisively bridged.
We can learn much from this encounter with Moses. For the tribes of Israel it had been preceded by a period of fruitless wandering, culminating with enslavement and bitter oppression in Egypt. To a suffering people, whatever their faults in the past, it must have seemed that a distant God was beyond their reach.
Lent invites us to consider our own lives. Where have our wanderings brought us? Do we experience the consequences of sin as a kind of enslavement? Do we feel as strangers in the presence of God?
For us, as for Moses and his people long ago, it is the God of mercy who takes the initiative. It was the God of their fathers, who had never abandoned them in their wanderings, who now intervened decisively to set them free. He bound himself intimately to his people through the gift of his name, and in his actions was revealed as the God of compassion and love. So it is with us. A merciful Father has watched over our past, the good and the bad. Where repentance is true, he reveals himself to us, as he revealed himself to Moses long ago. The way forward becomes his, rather than the confusion of a sinful past.
St Paul’s account of the wandering in the wilderness is a cautionary tale. Long ago the tribes of Israel escaped through the waters of the Red Sea, just as we were made one with Christ in waters of baptism. They were fed with manna in the desert, just as we are fed by Christ, the Bread of Life. Some were unmoved, refusing to abandon their sinful ways. They perished in their procrastination.
In like manner Jesus challenged his disciples. As the farmer looks for fruit from a cherished fig tree, so the Father looks for repentance in those to whom he has entrusted his beloved Son. He waits upon us, but can do nothing without our engagement. “O that today you would listen to his voice. Harden not your hearts.”
This article first appeared in the February 26 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To download the entire issue for free with our new app, go here
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