Exodus 33:12-23 – The 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, October 19, 2014
“Moses said, ‘Please show me your glorious presence.’” (Exodus 33:18)
Near the end of the conversation with God at the burning bush, Moses moped about not being eloquent. “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” claimed the guy (in Exodus 4:10) who’d soon lead the Children of Israel to freedom.
Really? (I can’t image Moses/Christian Bale, in the upcoming Ridley Scott film “Gods and Kings” being slow of speech! Charlton Heston’s Moses didn’t have a “slow tongue!”)
Much of Exodus depicted a whining, wondering, and willfull Moses. He cajoles, he vents, and he seethes. The precious child once plucked from a river’s bulrushes becomes the pushy man who persuades THE CREATOR OF THE WHOLE DARN UNIVERSE WHO IS CONTINUING TO CREATE AND ACCOMPLISH A WHOLE LOT MORE WHICH IS FAR BEYOND THE UNDERSTANDING OF MERE MORTALS to reveal the Holy name (which, in Hebrew, was gratefully shortened to Y-H-W-H instead of T-C-O-T-W-D-U-W-I-C-T-C-A-A-A-W-L-M-W-I-F-B-T-U-O-M-M.) Moses alone first received the radical and community-building commandments from God (and then the commandments again after some nasty idol business). Moses continually convinced God that the escaping, fake-deity-making, heartbreaking, and bellyaching Chosen People were worth saving.
Moses listened. (Well, most of the time.)
Based on the various accounts of Exodus (including the chatty Exodus 33:12-23 example of the God and Moses dialogs) Y-H-W-H and Mister Moses were the Abbott and Costello (or Key and Peele for you moderns) of the Old Testament.
Moses, forever with one more request, requested in the thirty-third chapter of Exodus that God show God’s presence.
God up close and personal, please.
God with Moses, face to face, please.
God with or without make-up, in a house robe or tuxedo, before or after the first jolt of holy joe in the morning.
“Okay, already, but be careful what you wish for,” God said.
“Gotta see you, God,” Moses implored. “Show me your glorious presence.”
“You can’t see my face because no one can see me and live.”
In the end—literally—Moses won’t be allowed to see God’s lovely but potentially fatal visage. Instead he’ll witness a hint of the Holy derriere as Y-H-W-H “passed by.” Better that God passed by than Moses dropped dead.
I can joke about the wordy, give-and-take between God and Moses, but I’m jealous. Whether it’s the stunned Moses, barefoot at the burning bush, or the angry Moses, glaring at the golden calf his brother Aaron had championed, Moses was God’s confidant, God’s go-to guy, God’s main man.
I want to talk to God like Moses did. I want God to talk to me like God did back in the semi-good old days with Moses.
But I’m not Moses.
I’m just a twenty-first century fella, a sometime follower of Jesus, a wayward believer, an ordained fool, and an aging Baby Boomer who doesn’t trust anyone over thirty (myself included).
I talk to God all the time. But God—thank you very much Moses and all those verses with verbosity in Exodus—never seems to answer like he did with the kid plucked from the River Nile.
I pray to God for a loved one’s heath. And yet death comes.
I seek Godly guidance to make the right decision among two or ten choices. And yet when I say, “Yes” to one, the other options spawn regrets in the vacuum of divine silence.
I attempt to discern from God the right thing to do—forgiving another, helping the stranger, loving the neighbor as myself—and yet doubt myself and second-guess my actions.
God remains mute; a Holy chasm, a Divine pause that seems to stretch the length of my lifetime.
Why can’t God speak to me like I was Moses?
But I am Larry. Can I read Exodus and have the courage to remember that? I am Larry who has seen alpenglow burn on the high ridges of the Sierra and sensed the Holy. I am Larry who took the chance to ask Jeanie to marry me and sensed the Holy. I am Larry who stared at a blank screen and attempted a word and a sentence and a paragraph and a story and sensed the Holy. I am Larry who had held a hand in a hospital and prayed for hope with the ones I love and the ones I barely know and sensed the Holy.
I am Larry who has never heard God’s voice and yet . . .
I will never be Moses.
Let me read Exodus and be jealous. Let me playfully imagine God and Moses as a vaudeville routine, a comic and a straight guy, tellers of knock-knock jokes and above all else reverent revealers of the enduring bond of the relationship between the Holy and human.
God loves us, and treats each one as a unique creation in a unique relationship. Let me remember to be Larry and to keep listening.
I may never hear the Holy like Moses. But I believe I hear the Holy every day as Larry. (Except on the days I don’t . . . which tend to occur on the days I fail to listen.)