21 Pentecost, Year A: Yearning, Seeing

Sunday’s Readings

21 Pentecost, October 22

Ex. 33:12-23 or Isa. 45:1-7
Ps. 99 or Ps. 96:1-9 (10-13)
1 Thess. 1:1-10Matt. 22:15-22

Revelation of God to Moses | Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr

Having bowed to the golden calf, the Israelites turn away from the mystery of the one true God, who is not seen with fleshly eyes, enthroned invisibly upon the cherubim, the God Who Is, high above all peoples, great and awesome — that than which nothing greater can be conceived: Being itself! God passes judgment: “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are” (Ex. 32:9). God’s wrath is averted only after Moses stands in the breach: “Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people” (Ex. 32:12). God, then, promises that Moses and the people will enter the Promised Land, assisted by a ministering angel. And yet, strangely, God says, “I will not go up among you” (Ex. 33:3).

Moses cannot countenance the thought of proceeding without the presence of God. Neither can we. Without the attending presence of God, the grace that precedes and follows us, that envelops our being, we would fall instantly into nothingness. Finally, the Lord says, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:14). Moses asks for a sign of God’s presence, saying, “Show me your glory, I pray” (Ex. 33:18). The Lord responds, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen” (Ex. 33:21-23).

We cannot see the full glory of God because he exceeds all that we can ask or imagine. Though ineffable and deeply mysterious, God reveals a measure of divine glory fitted to our capacity, showing, we might say, a divine afterglow. God deigns to be seen in part, but this is no small thing. Standing in the cleft of the rock, Moses feels the God of the whole cosmos passing by, near and powerful.

Moses does and does not get what he wants. He does not see the full glory of God, the divine essence. Rather, Moses sees enough to be satisfied, yet is not sated because there is always more of God to know, seek, and love. Gregory of Nyssa puts it this way in The Life of Moses: “This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more” (p. 116).

Something similar is suggested in the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians. They ask a question about paying the Roman tax, hoping to entrap Jesus. Responding, Jesus does not divide the world into two equal realms, the secular and sacred, the earthly city and heavenly city. Rather, saying that we must “give to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus leaves nothing outside the scope of God’s sovereign authority. To be sure, Jesus allows the tax to be paid, though suggesting it is a mere nothing, an image on a coin. What is owed to God is absolutely everything, because “all things come of thee” (1 Chron. 29:14, KJV). In a sense, “giving to God the things that are God’s” is the same endless quest we observe in Moses’ desire to see God.

The spiritual journey of longing and yearning and loving never ends.

Look It Up: 1 Thessalonians 1:10

Think About It: To wait for the Son from heaven is always to wait for some new gift.


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