Moses, for the first time, sees Yahweh in the burning bush–the bush that is not consumed by the flame. How does Yahweh identify Yahweh’s self?
‘I am he who is.’
These identifiers tell us something important. First, that God is, and second, that God relates to people. Indeed, God relates to these identifiable people: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Of the mass of people who lived in the history of the world, God revealed God’s self to these people. But something comes with that identification, with the claim to be the God of these people:
8 And I have come down to rescue them from the clutches of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that country, to a country rich and broad, to a country flowing with milk and honey, to the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.
God hears the suffering of the people of this world, and it is because of that suffering that God reveals God’s self. We should think upon the wonderful meaning of that relationship. God identifies with a people and hears their suffering and wishes to relieve that suffering. It was not because they kept the ways of God, or because they were kings, or because they knew the magic words. No. God came to those who suffer. And God still comes to those who suffer.
I do not mean, of course, that God answers all of our prayers, or that God will touch each sick person and cure that person or release each prisoner. Jesus came for that. It was His mission, to proclaim liberty to all. And we are called to be like-Christ.
Which leads us to the doom and gloom:
In this parable, Jesus has us imagine someone frustrated that the tree he has planted has yielded no fruit. Of course, you and I would be just like that person: we would want to cut down the tree and plant a new one. But the tree keeper holds his hand:
9 it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.” ‘
We, you and I, brothers and sisters, have been freed by God’s son, Jesus, to be the Good News for others. Are we that Good News? This question is the central question of our Lenten reflections. Lent has nothing to do with giving up candy or chocolate or not eating meat on Fridays. No, my brothers and sisters, Lent is about asking ourselves how we relate to others in this world.
See, my sister, when we give up that candy bar, we have done something that looks only at our individual self. My brother, when we give up that beer during Lent, we focus only on our immediate desires. Lent is a call to love others and to repent when we have not loved the other. It is a call to turn toward out brothers and sisters and to give them the Good News.
Thus, we are offered a caution:
12 Everyone, no matter how firmly he thinks he is standing, must be careful he does not fall.
Our self-centeredness can lead us to believe in ourselves above anything else. We may even believe that we have insight to God that others lack. Or insight to truth. Or insight into justice. And when that belief in our self is so strong, we must be careful.
God does not call us to abandon every concern for our individual lives. If God did, then God would never come to save the Israelites from the Egyptians. God would never have sent Jesus to give us the Good News. God would never call us to care for others. Yes, we are called to die to our selves, because that self can become so strong that it is all that matters. And so we give up candy and beer, or lunches out, or sex, and we think we have done something good. But our Lenten call is to be like Jesus– to give ourselves to others. Which means we must die to our own self-righteousness. For self-righteousness heals no one. We must die to the idea that we have the one path to God, the one path to truth, the one path to justice, for on a path alone, we will fall, and there will be no one there to heal us.
God is not the God of one person, or one people, or of the many. God is the God of all. And we are called, my brothers and sisters, to reach out to those who suffer, just as Yahweh reached out to the enslaved Israelites, just as Jesus reached out to the blind, the sick, and the sinner.
And to us!
Praise be God!