MOVING FORWARD WITH THE PRESENCE OF GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Ex 33:7-11; 34:5-9. 28; Ps 102:6-13; Mt 13:36-43 ]
We have read how the people sinned against the Lord by breaking the foundational commandment which is not to worship others gods. Furthermore, the Lord commanded, “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Ex 20:3f) As a consequence, God decided to stop leading the people to the Promised Land. He told Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you.” (Ex 32:33f) Again, the Lord reiterated, “Depart, go up hence, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites …. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Ex 33:1-3)
Without the Lord journeying with them, it would have been difficult for them to enter the Promised Land in spite of the Lord‘s promise to send His angel to help them. Moses was insistent that God must be with them if he were to continue leading the people. “If thy presence will not go with me, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in thy sight, I and thy people? Is it not in thy going with us, so that we are distinct, I and thy people, from all other people that are upon the face of the earth?” (Ex 33:15f) Moses undertook the task of leading the people out of Egypt to the Promised Land only because the Lord assured him earlier that He would be with him. So if the Lord were to withdraw His presence, Moses would be totally defeated.
It is true for us all. The presence and support of those who appoint us for a task is very important if we are to carry out the work well. That is why it is important that superiors give their moral support to their subordinates, and speak on their behalf or defend them in their actions. This is not to say that we try to protect them from the consequences of their mistakes but we need to be supportive of them in good and bad times. When they make mistakes, the superior must be ready to offer them encouragement and compassion. If we have the moral presence of our superiors and our loved ones, we can always overcome the trials of life. We can appreciate why Moses appealed to the Lord to reconsider His decision not to journey with them personally to the Promised Land.
The Lord relented. He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex 33:14) And so Moses asked the Lord, “I pray thee, show me thy glory.” (Ex 33:18) And the Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” However, there was a condition, “But, you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live. Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a 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 33:18-23) Indeed, no one can see the fullness of the glory and the majesty of God and live. We are morally imperfect and the splendor of God would be too much for us to encounter.
So where can we locate His presence with us in our lives? Precisely, in the effects of His work. This is what it means when God told Moses that he could only see His back. In other words, we can see God only where He passed by, like the shadow of a person that passes us. God is known by what He does and how He acts. We cannot understand fully who God is unless He reveals Himself. So in Jesus, we see who God is, in the humanity of Jesus, not in His glory. This is what the Lord told Philip. “He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.” (Jn 14:9-11) In Jesus, we see the fullness of the Father, but in a veiled form under the lowliness of the humanity of Christ.
He revealed his identity not so much by what He said to Moses but by what He was. He proved His nature
by the way He dealt with the people of Israel. He demonstrated His mercy by relenting through the intercession of Moses. When the people sinned grievously against the Lord, it was Moses’ mediation that prevented God from destroying the people. (Ex 32:10-14) When God forgave them and allowed them to enter the Promised Land, He withdrew His personal presence and instead asked His angel to follow them. Again, after Moses’ intercession, He relented and agreed to let His presence go with them to Canaan.
What, then, is the character and nature of God that He came to reveal to us? When God revealed His glory to Moses, He said, “The Lord, the Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin, yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.” The glory of God is seen in His nature. By revealing to Moses His innermost nature, which is one of compassion and justice, God showed forth His glory. This God unites within Himself, compassion and forgiveness with justice and truth. This is what the responsorial psalm says, “The Lord does deeds of justice, gives judgement for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses and his deeds to Israel’s sons. The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. His wrath will come to an end; he will not be angry for ever.”
On one hand, God forgives us for all our sins. On the other hand, He also punishes. This is what the psalmist says, “He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults. For as the heavens are high above the earth so strong is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins. As a father has compassion on his sons, the Lord has pity on those who fear him.” But God also punishes those who fail to repent and continue in their sins. Indeed, even though God forgave them, He said, “’Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.’” And the Lord sent a plague upon the people, because they made the calf which Aaron made.” (Ex 32:34bf) They had to suffer the consequences of their sins, if not, it would be the future generations. This is what the Lord meant when He said that He would punish the children that comes after them. The truth is that our sins do not just affect us but our descendants. It does not mean that God would arbitrarily punish the generations following our sins. But the inevitable truth is that children will suffer for the sins of their parents, as in a divorce, criminal offence, abuses, etc. While these effects of our sins are obvious, the subtler effects are the values that we hand to them.
This same truth is illustrated in Christ’s teaching on the parable of the darnel. Jesus explained the compassion and justice of God. For Jesus, now is the time of grace. Judgment and punishment will come at the end. Now the Lord gives us the grace and the opportunity to do good, live a holy life and if we fail, He gives us time to repent. This is the meaning of the parable. God is always forgiving and He will not punish anyone who repents. However, justice would have to be served in the end, for what we reap is what we sow.
Jesus is the incarnation of God’s grace, mercy and justice. St John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” He added, “And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (Jn 1:16-18)
As Christians, we are fortunate to have seen the face of God. We must act like Him, in mercy, compassion and with integrity and truth. We are called to imitate Moses who found favour with God. God talked to him like a friend. He was a loyal friend of God. Like Moses, we must pray to God as a friend, in intimacy as Jesus did. Only when we are able to share this intimacy with God as Moses did, can we then feel the pain, grief, love and mercy of God for His people. When God grieved, Moses grieved. When God suffered, Moses suffered. This explains why he was enraged at the obstinacy of the people when he came down from the mountain to see them worshipping a false god. Let us through a deep prayer life, follow Moses and enter into the heart of God and understand His ways, so that we too in union with Him would also act like God in our relationship with our neigbours, not judging them on earth but allowing God to be their judge. Presumptuous judgement can destroy people, good or evil, rather than help them to come to know and love God. Let God be our savior and our judge. Let Him be with us in our journey, giving us the strength as He did for Moses who was given supernatural strength and supernatural food “as He stayed there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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