Wednesday, September 22, 2010
In the Footsteps of Moses
Moses, of course, was a murderer.
It’s one of those often forgotten bits of his life story. He kills an Egyptian slavemaster who is beating a Hebrew slave. In Exodus 2:12 we discover, “He [Moses] looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”
You’d think the slave would be grateful. You’d think Moses would be celebrated as a hero. But long before ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ is handed down on stone tablets, the people recognize that murder is wrong. Moses has sinned. The slaves reject him, Pharaoh finds out, and Moses must flee to Midian.
Forty years later, Moses has rebuilt his life in exile. Sure, he’s left his kin behind. Sure, he no longer has contact with his brother, his mother, his sister, his people. But he could continue for the rest of his days to live this way, surrounded by his new family, caring for his father-in-law’s sheep on the hills of Midian.
And then the unexpected occurs. As Moses moves the flock through its pastures, something captures his attention: A burning bush, unconsumed, alone on a hilltop. Such a thing has never happened before. Such a thing simply cannot happen. But Moses, the murderer, does not dismiss this apparition as a figment of his mind. Instead, scripture tells us that Moses ‘turned aside’ to examine the bush. And that single decision changes everything.
There’s so much wrapped into the short heart-stopping story of the burning bush. God captivates humanity with the impossible, the curious, the unusual, the sacred. Imagine: flames licking, God calling. And Moses answering, “Here I am.”
It’s all there. “Here I am.” Three words as powerful as ‘I love you’.
Moses, the sinner, gives himself fully to God in the Here I am. And God? God does the same. God embraces utter vulnerability, giving God’s very name to all humanity for the rest of time. YHWH: I Am Who Am; I Will Be Who Will Be. Eternity beckons in this name that speaks to past, present and future all at once.
The giving of a name signifies trust in most cultures. Historically and even in the present, names are understood to carry the essence of our self. We use titles for those who are remote, and first names with those who are closest. Giving one’s name is an act of trust, care and hope for the future.
So when God gifts the name YHWH to the world, a name so sacred that Jews still do not pronounce it, God says you may do what you will to me. I will be your victim. I will be your saviour. I will be who will be. The stage is set for Jesus. Love him. Kill him. Your choice.
And who did God choose to represent us in this eternal moment? None other than the murderer, Moses. Not because he was innocent, not because he was powerful, not because he was successful or smart or popular. He was none of these things at the time – just an exiled murderer, offspring of an enslaved people. But in his simplicity and sinfulness, Moses represents both our best and our worst.
Whatever sins haunt you, whatever sorrows assail you, keep your eyes, ears and heart open. God knows your name, and offers redemption. However imperfect we may be, we can each choose to turn to God. However perfect we maybe, we can each choose to turn away. The call is God’s; the answer is ours. The question is whether or not we’ll give our ‘Here I Am’ to life, to forgiveness, to our neighbour, to God.