The Life of Moses

Lent 3

Ex. 3:1-15 • Ps. 63:1-8 • 1 Cor. 10:1-13 • Luke 13:1-9

As he arrives at Horeb, the mountain of God, Moses sees an angel of the Lord revealing the mystery of the Incarnation. For “this light did not shine from some luminary among the stars but came from an earthly bush and surpassed the heavenly luminaries in brilliance” (Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses). Or we may relate this to the Virgin Mary: “The light of divinity which through birth shone from her into human life did not consume the burning bush” (ibid).

Or, as Thomas Aquinas famously said, “Grace perfects nature, it does not destroy it.” Though an angel is blazing, it is the Lord who speaks, penetrating the heart of Moses by the invocation of his name. “Moses, Moses!” Strikingly, Moses’ reply imitates the divine name. “Here I Am” (Ex. 3:4). Insofar as Moses is, a depth is unveiled beyond transience, mortality, and limitation. Moses is only because God is: “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). This contemplative meeting precedes all action on the part of Moses. He is never to forget that “I will be with you.” The liberation of a people begins in this wondrous encounter.

Just as the burning bush tells of Mary and Jesus and the workings of grace, other New Testament mysteries unfold in the life of Moses. The people are said to be “baptized into Moses.” They eat “spiritual food” and drink “spiritual drink” that flows from a “spiritual rock” (1 Cor. 10:2-4). That rock is Christ. Everything written in holy writ is, in one way or another, about Christ. Freed from bondage in Egypt, the people fall again and again into idolatry. Their passions unleashed, they put God to the test and complain. O Christian, are you any better? “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Cor. 10:3-12). Indeed, “Unless you repent, you will perish as they did” (Luke 13:3).

If we dig and add some manure, however, all will be well. How does this work? Jesus tells a story about a man who had a fig tree. Sadly the fig tree is not making figs. It is not being itself and so is “wasting the soil.” The verdict: cut it down! The man in the tale defends the tree and proposes careful cultivation and healthful fertilizer. Give it another year.

Let’s review. God addresses each of us by name, calls us, meets us where our being hangs upon the being of God. We are only because God is. God announces our freedom, leading us into and through the waters of baptism where sin, the flesh, and the devil are dealt a fatal blow. This death is coupled with the life-giving inflow of God’s supernatural grace and the transfer of our allegiance to God in Christ where we are forever hid. We have a new homeland.

And yet we are sent out into a fallen world whose misery and sorrow and tears cut through the center of our own being. Simul iustus et peccator until, in the fullness of time, every enemy is subject to Christ. For this reason, though filled with the blazing light of Christ, we yet struggle with a fruitless life, a life that seems so often to be “wasting the soil.” The cure is ceaseless cultivation, moving the dirt and adding manure and waiting in faithfulness. Simply, we need practice. These will help immeasurably: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, repentance, proclamation, example, serving Christ in all persons, striving for justice and peace. Press on and remember that your effort is a grace.

Look It Up
Read Ex. 3:2. Extend your arms in the orans position, branches of the bush. Now, burn.

The Life of Moses
A living flame of love that wounds the soul in its deepest center (St. John of the Cross).

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