Monday, February 26, 2007

Holy Ground

During my Lenten devotions today, I stumbled across this. To understand why this is so cool, you must know what happened back in the early chapters of Exodus.

Baby Moses, as you know, was adopted by an Egyptian princess and thus spared from infanticide. He grew up as an Egyptian, but was still connected to his Hebrew roots. Ex. 2:11-14 (NAB):

On one occasion, after Moses had grown up, when he visited his kinsmen and witnessed their forced labor, he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his own kinsmen. Looking about and seeing no one, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out again, and now two Hebrews were fighting! So he asked the culprit, "Why are you striking your fellow Hebrew?" But he replied, "Who has appointed you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses became afraid and thought, "The affair must certainly be known."

Pharaoh gets wind of the incident and orders Moses killed, so Moses flees to Midian, marries a local girl, and settles down to raise sheep. But then God sets this bush on fire... Ex. 3:4-6:

When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses! Moses!" He answered, "Here I am." God said, "Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father," he continued, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

OK, so now we fast-forward a bit. Skip over the whole "Let my people go!", over the plagues, over the parting of the Red Sea, over the golden calf incident, over the wandering in the desert for 40 years to kill off the unfaithful generation... and we get to the book of Joshua, who was Moses' successor as the leader of the Hebrews.

This happened right before the siege and conquest of Jericho. Joshua 5: 13-16:

While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you one of us or of our enemies?" He replied, "Neither. I am the captain of the host of the Lord and I have just arrived." Then Joshua fell prostrate to the ground in worship, and said to him, "What has my lord to say to his servant?" The captain of the host of the Lord replied to Joshua, "Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy." And Joshua obeyed.

There are a number of things that strike me about these two stories.

  1. God calls us. He may use signs, or he may use messengers, but he does whatever he can to get our attention. Have no doubt, dear reader: he is calling you, this very moment.
  2. God invites us to be intimate with him. Initially, the command to remove your sandals may seem counter-intuitive. When the holy God is encountered by unholy man, the natural response, we would think, would be to shield him from ourselves by wrapping ourselves in Glad Clingwrap. Yet God wants contact; he wants flesh to flesh interaction. "Here is my holiness," he is saying. "Have some." This is why we Catholics are so amazed by the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is God's most amazing gift to us: his very flesh and blood, in defiance of all logic.
  3. The state of our conscience can hurt or help our ability to respond to him. Moses had murder on his conscience - think about how he checked if anybody was watching before dispatching the Egyptian. When God got his attention, he had to caution him to stay back. This is an act of mercy on God's part - Moses in his state of mortal sin would not be able to abide the full presence of God. Joshua, by contrast, does not hide his face but bows in full worship. The glory of God reveals all our hidden secrets, and when we are clean in his sight, that glory does not intimidate us - rather, it enthralls us. The conscious sinner, however, cannot stand it.
This is gonna be a good Lent. :)

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