3rd Sunday of Lent 2016
Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” God spoke further to Moses, Exodus 3:14
Who is the one true God? This is obviously a most important question for man to ask and to have answered. Yet only God can really answer this question for man, because we can know by our natural reason very little about God. We could know that God exists by the light of our reason, as St. Paul insists in Romans. We can also come to know that God is one, that God is absolute goodness, etc. But if we are to know this one God intimately and love this one God intimately, then we really need to know not just that God is, or some qualities of the divinity, but we need to know who God is, that is we need to know God personally.
We need to know God and his relationship to us; so it’s important that God teaches us already in the Books of the Old Testament that He is our creator, our origin, and we also learn from His revelation that God is also our destiny as well, First in Genesis we learn that God made us for himself, made us in His very image and likeness precisely so we could know him and love him most intimately, and all these truths about who God is are confirmed and developed throughout the sacred books. And learning more about who God is in relation to us not only reveals our true destiny, but also reveals how we must live in this world to attain that destiny, that happiness in God.
So, in today’s reading God says to Moses, in answer to his question about who God is who is sending him to the Israelites, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” To make “I am” the identifying name of God is most revealing. God is pure being, the source and origin of all being that is outside of himself, that who He is and what He is are the same. No creature can say what God says of Himself, that he is absolute or pure being. That would be the height of absurdity since we have all received our being and existence from another.
So God here identifies himself in terms of being itself, that is, His is nature is simply to be, and to be the source of all that is, all other beings. How marvelous that God should reveal this stupendous truth about himself to Moses, so that Moses will have confidence in Him and understand that the one who is sending him is the one who has created him and everything else that exists, and that surely means that the One who is sending him on a mission of freeing his people has infinite power to carry out his will through Moses.
But then God adds something to the self identification. We read, “God spoke further to Moses, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. If in the first name God identifies himself as pure being, and the source of all being, the omnipotent God, he goes further here and adds that he is also the God of the Covenant, the God of “your fathers,” the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. Thus God reveals both his omnipotent being and his truly personal relationship with Israel, and by extension, with all mankind. God, therefore, even as pure being, is not to be confused with the impersonal powers that men often identify with God, for the omnipotent God is simultaneously the personal God who has covenanted with Israel, the God of their fathers.
How shocking this truth is to the human mind unaided by faith. How can the God who is pure being, the God who is the only potential source of all being, also be the personal God who covenants with mere men, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with a very small and inconspicuous nation on the face of this planet. The true God’s personal identity is not self-evident to the human mind. God is not just an impersonal power who controls the universe, but a personal God who enters into a covenant of love with men. In short God loves man and wills to redeem Him so that man can enjoy the destiny for which he was created in the first place, the enjoyment of God Himself.
However, Israel itself will later be even more shocked when God further identifies himself through Jesus Christ. God is not simply personal, God is not simply the one who acts like a father to Israel, but God is a true Father in a much deeper sense. Through Jesus it is revealed that God is a Father who eternally begets a divine Son and sends that Son into the world, into the vineyard, in order to save Israel, and through Israel all mankind. Indeed, it is the omnipotence of God’s absolute being and the infinite love of God that makes it possible for this Eternal Son to truly become flesh, to truly assume our human nature and, as man, be the true heir of all that belongs to the Father.
All this is magnificent, but as Jesus also warns his people, this ultimate revelation is in fact going to spark a horror beyond all words. Those who are in charge of God’s vineyard up to Jesus’ time, and who should above all others welcome God’s revelation in Jesus, will actually reject Him and put Him to death. How tragic it is that God’s self-revelation in Jesus will be rejected then and now by those who are not open to God’s word, whose lack of faith closes them to the full truth about who God is and what His intentions are for those who truly believe Him and love Him.
Nonetheless, God once again will display his omnipotence and his love by making this ultimate crime, the deadly rejection of God in Jesus Christ, the source of salvation that comes through his Son. This is the true God who reveals himself to the world most fully in this final act of divine generosity. God is the “I am” but even more wonderfully the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jaco; and more wonderful yet the God and Father of Jesus Christ; and finally and most wonderful of all the God who makes us his children who call him rightly “our Father.” And now we can also rightfully endow the final line of the first reading today from Exodus with this full revealed truth of who God is, “This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.” He is the true God and Father who makes us sons in the Son, and we must now learn to live as his adopted children. His revelation of who He is also reveals to us who we are, and how we are to live, and what it ultimately means to be, period.
Indeed, think how important for our life today is just the revelation concerning man’s creation by God. For this truth about our origin teaches us that God personally designed our nature, and the fact that our nature is a given, designed by God, teaches us that we are not free to arbitrarily change human nature by the overreaching power of modern science. All too many people today think it’s morally acceptable for scientists to alter human nature in whatever way they choose. And so today we witness medical procedures even for changing a person’s sexual nature, for turning one sex into another, at least superficially, by radically altering the physiology that underlies sexual identity. And beyond that overreaching of scientists, there are already those who are working to clone human beings and alter the genetic composition of human beings in whatever way they choose. In other words, we now have scientists who want to play God.
Now it’s deadly dangerous for scientists or anyone else to play God, since man’s intellect is so lacking when it comes to a knowledge of the whole, let alone of the part. The truth is that we simply don’t know what the ultimate consequences will be for this human experimentation as far as the human physical nature is concerned. But we certainly know that when man plays God, he already destroys that which makes us fully human, which is our very relation to the Creator. Nothing corrupts our humanity so totally as the corruption of souls which is the deadly consequence of playing God. That explains why the temptation by Satan at the very beginning of human history was precisely that “you shall become like God.” When man thinks he is the Supreme Being, then he fails to honor and respect the true Supreme Being, and then there are no limits possible as to what man can do with his deeply distorted conscience.
But the remedy is also always at hand. Returning to God as the “I am”, the origin and destiny of all creation is the path of humility and obedience that saves man from trying to make himself God. And returning to God as the merciful Father who so loved the world that he gave us His only Begotten Son is the path of love and filial devotion that makes all things new, that restores the true relationship between God and His human family, and makes all things possible, even the salvation of the world.