Among the most striking passages in the Bible are those that describe God calling his special messengers or servants. Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah in the Old Testament; and Mary of Nazareth and Peter and Paul in the New Testament, are all called to a special vocation in dramatic stories. But Moses speaking to God before the burning bush is one of the greatest of all such stories. And that’s what we have in today’s first reading.
These stories all fit into a relatively fixed pattern. The message comes through a voice from heaven, or a mystical vision, or an angel. The mission is described in general and exalted terms. The one who is called only reluctantly accepts the invitation to serve because of his or her own fear and inadequacies.
But here, in the call of Moses, there is an added feature, in that God discloses his special name to Moses. Doing so is a symbolic way for God, while remaining shrouded in mystery, to reveal his true self to Moses. Moses will go on to accomplish great deeds, but always Moses will come back to this initial moment, the moment when he first encountered God and learned to carry out God’s commands.
In our second reading, St Paul harks back to those days when Israel was in the desert, journeying to the promised land. Those were hard times. Paul compares the trials that his audience is experiencing in their own day with that time of testing long ago that Israel was subjected to in the desert.
Today’s gospel comes in two parts. First, Jesus recalls to mind how some people recently perished in a cruel persecution and others in a tragic mishap. These victims were not being punished for anything they had done, Jesus says. But it should bring to mind the uncertainty of life and how the end is beyond our control. When the end comes, then we will have to face the final judgment of God.
But how are we judged? How does God judge us? At this point—in the second part of today’s gospel—Jesus teaches a parable about how God’s judgment goes beyond our understanding because our heavenly Father is so prone to patience and mercy.
—Walter Modrys SJ
This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.