Third Sunday of Lent
The readings for the day can be found here.
Today’s first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures contains the richly detailed account of God calling and commissioning Moses as a prophet who will lead God’s people out of slavery to the Egyptians and into the promised land. As Moses shepherds his father-in-law’s flock in the wilderness, God captures Moses’ attention with the startling spectacle of a bush blazing with fire, yet not consumed. As Moses turns aside to investigate the sight, God begins a dialogue with Moses about the plight of the Israelites, which culminates in God sending Moses to Pharaoh to release them from bondage.
Moses, however, knows that the Israelites will ask for the name of the deity that sent him to them. In the ancient world, names carried great significance. To know a person’s name was to know his or her character; it was a means of defining the person. And, as is the case even today, knowing a person’s name was the prerequisite to establishing a relationship with him or her.
In response to Moses’ inquiry, God utters the enigmatic statement, “I am who am” and later, even more succinctly, “I AM,” which the Hebrew text expresses with the consonants “YHWH.” Rather than reading this name as some sort of dry ontological statement about God’s essence, contemporary theologians remind us that God is not inviting Moses into a conversation about metaphysics, but into a personal relationship—a saving relationship. Some of the depth and dynamism of “YHWH” is better expressed as, “I will be what I will be for you,” or even more simply, “I will be there for you.” As the 20th century theologian Catherine Mowry LaCugna explained, the name of God as revealed in Exodus 3 amounts to nothing less than a promise to be with God’s people forever.
In the Christian tradition, God’s immanence is fully revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The God who sees the suffering of the enslaved Israelites and sends Moses to act as an agent of salvation sends His own Son to personally identify with and radically participate in the suffering of humankind enslaved in sin. Even Jesus’ own name (“God saves”) reveals who he is by virtue of what God does—for us.
Rather than serving as an arid historical record, the survey of salvation history in the scripture readings of Lent should urge us to consider the personal invitation to relationship and liberation God addresses to each of us. Even more, how are we called to share in God’s saving work in the world? To whom are we sent to proclaim freedom? The God of Moses and the God of Jesus Christ is not the God who once was or who once saved, but the God who deeply abides with us, frees us from the dehumanizing effects of sin’s bondage, and continually calls us into communion with God and God’s people.
Rachel Kondro is a SLU alumna (A&S ‘07, Grad ‘09) and a Campus Minister in Reinert Hall.