Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
March 7, 2010
Third Sunday of Lent
“I am sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14
In Exodus is described an encounter almost without parallel in the Scriptures. Moses meets God. To better understand the significance of this, we realize that in ancient cultures, especially those of the Mid-East, names meant everything. No one just gave another person his or her name. Also, a name could tell you a person’s place of origin and the family to which he belonged. To know the name of a god was particularly significant. There was implied a certain submission or belonging, if one knew the name of the god he worshipped. For the Jews God was so completely “other” and so profoundly mysterious that His name could never be spoken. This unutterable quality to God’s name emphasized His holiness, being set apart for adoration and praise.
That God would reveal His name to Moses tells us a great deal. First, it tells us that Moses is a special person. In God’s name, Moses will lead the people out of slavery in Egypt. “I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians,” says God to Moses, “and lead them out of that land” (Exodus 3:8). God must reveal His name to Moses, because when Moses speaks to the people about the mighty deeds to be performed for them, they will ask, “What is his name?” (Exodus 3:13). God then answers, “I am who am” (Exodus 3:14). Moses is to say to the people, “I am sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). Over and above this, the name tells us something about God.
God’s name is neither a noun nor a pronoun. It is a verb. God acts, and His name not only identifies Him but also tells us what He will do. God is identified with His salvation. He will save His people. Also, in using a verb to name Himself, God refuses to be contained. Man’s categories cannot describe everything that needs to be known. The name “I am who am” also tells us that God makes a gift of His presence. He exists. He is eternal and abiding.
God’s Word that speaks His name is living, and this idea of God giving life through His Word is seen subtly in the Gospel. Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree that has not borne fruit, so the owner wants the tree cut down. The gardener, on the other hand, pleads that more time is needed for cultivation and fertilizing. Let us see if it bears fruit then.
In Sacred Scripture, the fig tree symbolized the Chosen People (cf. Joel 1:7). Obviously the purpose of a fruit tree was to bear fruit, just as the Chosen People were to be fruitful in their relationship with God. Jesus takes up this image, when speaking of Himself as the vine and those who believe in Him as the branches. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,” He says, “because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Jesus wants repentance, because repentance leads to life and to fruitfulness. “If you do not repent, you will all perish” (Luke 13:5). Having said this, Jesus then uses the parable of the fig tree to teach a lesson about fruitfulness and God’s patience.
In a sense, Lent is about our fruit, and God’s expectations. Jesus Christ comes to give life. Apart from Him, no fruit is forthcoming. Lent is a time that God allows us to be cultivated and fertilized. What will be the outcome of our prayer, fasting and works of mercy? When will we allow the grace of the Sacraments we receive to manifest itself in our lives and actions? Indeed, we are like a fig tree that perhaps has not yielded fruit, and once again we find ourselves in Lent with an opportunity to be seized or lost. Perhaps, again, we have borne fruit and are now being cultivated to yield even more fruit.
And who is the origin of the life that fills the tree and makes it fertile? It is the “I am who am.” God Himself gives life. God’s Eternal Word once again speaks in Jesus Christ, and Life is made present. Oh, how marvelous is the life that God gives us! In its natural sense, it is the human life that we share with one another that God created. In its supernatural sense, it is the Grace of God that transforms us. It is a Grace that fills us with everlasting life and makes us ever more pleasing to Him. In the beautiful words of St. Paul: “All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ” (I Corinthians 10:3-4). St. Paul sees the wandering Chosen People as prefiguring the new Chosen People. God fed them in the desert. Now God feeds us from Christ Himself. That God would feed the Chosen People in the desert of Sinai testifies that God will feed His new Chosen People from Christ, His Word made flesh. Christ is the manna in the desert, the rock from which the water flows, the very source of life, and the gardener who waits for the sprouting of the fig tree.