GOD’S intimate and active involvement in the lives of His people and those he chose to lead has always amazed me.
Take for example his dialogue with Moses in the story of The Burning Bush, which is our First Reading on this Third Sunday of Lent (Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15).
God called Moses from the burning bush, “Moses, Moses!” Then Moses answered, “Here I am.” God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers,” he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at the face of God. But the Lord said, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of Egyptians and lead them out of that land into good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Moses then said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.”
This encounter between God and Moses is deeply personal, caring, yet respectful and mystifying. God spoke to Moses like a father to a son, who wanted him to lead His people. Moses, on the other hand, approached God with reverent fear as he showed by hiding his face because he was afraid to look at the face of God. Then God spoke of his plan to rescue his people from the hands of the Egyptians. When Moses asked God what he would tell the people if they ask him His name, God replied, “I am who I am.”
At first glance, God’s name, “I am who am,” seems to be abstract, but as one further reflects on this first-person formulation, it indicates God’s active and personal way of relating to us. As Mark S. Smith explained in his commentary on this passage, “the being of God means being with, conveying divine involvement and participation with those human parties in relationship to this God.” (New Collegeville Bible Commentary).
“I am who am” indicates intimacy, care, love, and concern. Dennis Hamm, SJ righty argues for this name of God, saying, “The Creator does not simply sustain (which would be plenty)! The Creator redeems, frees Israel from bondage, with a little help from such diffident souls as Moses.” (Let the Scriptures Speak/liturgy.slu.edu)
God then is someone who reaches out to us who wants to speak to us always and accompany us in all our journeys of responsibilities, joys, triumphs, challenges, and struggles. He wants that every day is a conversation with him, that our relationship with him is intimate, yet respectful and trusting.
At the same time, this relationship should provoke holy fear, the fear of being separated from him in in the present to eternity, the fear of not enjoying and resting in his Presence, and the fear of not following his designs and will.
This is the same message that the Gospel this Sunday (Luke 13:1-9) tells us on the theme of repentance. Repentance involves the fear of being separated from the presence of God because of sin, distractions, and any obstacles to not being in communion with Him.
In the Gospel today, the fig tree is a symbol of a life that is dry, fruitless, and dead. It’s because the tree chose to live without the nurturing love of the gardener. However, the gardener wants to give this fig tree another chance to bear fruits instead of cutting it down, as long as he opens itself in humility to the outpouring care of its gardener.
A person’s life can be of that fig tree that is devoid of God’s presence and care. The only way that he or she can turn it around is by cutting down his or her pride and disregard for God’s sovereignty over our lives. It’s also by believing that God will give us another opportunity to grow in his love as long as we humbly walk in his ways and be in His constant presence and care in prayer, liturgy, and service!
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.