Sunday, May 31, 2009

3-11-2007: 3rd Lent (C)

Exodus 3:1-8,13-15/Psalm 103/1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12/Luke 13:1-9
There’s perhaps no more important Old Testament revelation than the one recorded in today’s first reading from The Book of Exodus (known in Hebrew as The Book of Names), when Moses encountered the burning bush from where God revealed his sacred Name. So sacred is the Divine Name, in fact, that it has not been uttered licitly for nearly two thousand years – since 70 A.D. -- when the Romans destroyed the Second Temple wherein the High Priest, and he alone, would enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and, in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, invoke the Name. So unique is that Name that no one, for certain, really knows how it should be correctly pronounced -- if ever it would be (though Jehovah is a decidedly mistaken attempt).

Although the revelation of the Divine Name concerns God’s identity, there’s another revelation which precedes it (and on which it is based) that reveals Moses’ true identity. The drama of Moses’ identity is revealed not in words but in a pregnant pause, an ah-ha moment if you will, when God gives Moses the gift of self-knowledge after a lifetime of ambiguity. How that pregnant pause is conveyed has largely been lost in translation -- a matter of linguistic technicality.

It’s called an ảthnah in biblical Hebrew and is rendered much like our grammatical colon (:) but appearing above the last letter (in the Hebrew) rather than after it. In linguistic jargon it’s called a disjunctive and is understood as a wedge of sorts, a silent in-between, allowing time for the words preceding it to register in the listener’s consciousness.

It happens -- the pause that is -- just when the voice in Exodus is about to identify himself in his divinity. The voice pronounces: “I am the God of your father…” And it’s there, right there at the end of the word “father” that the ảthnah (:), those two little dots are placed, indicating a pause in the written text, (perhaps reflecting a pause in the original dialogue between God and Moses) and, definitely, giving Moses pause.

Remember Moses was born of Hebrew parents but abandoned to the river for fear his birth would only bring him death. Adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised Egyptian, Moses would have worshipped Egyptian gods. Thus, at the moment of the ảthnah (:), when divinity is identified with Moses’ “father”, the truth remains ambiguous: which father Moses might have wondered. Are you the God of my Egyptian father or my Hebrew father? Then the moment of the two-fold revelation when both God’s and Moses’ identities are revealed: “I am the God of your father…the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” After a lifetime of wondering, Moses is affirmed in his true identity as a Hebrew raised Egyptian. The divine voice reveals both identities at the same time, allowing us to infer that relationship with the divine is contingent on self-identity, on self-knowledge.

Lent is an ảthnah. It’s a pregnant pause in our busy lives when we stop to take stock of who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. Just as the silence between the notes is what makes the music, Lent is a pregnant pause, helping us appreciate what’s really important, birthing us into self-awareness. The lesson is simple: every authentic encounter with divinity begins with an honest look in the mirror -- which should be enough to give anyone pause.

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