In the first reading, we are told of Moses’ encounter with God in via the ‘burning bush.’ The encounter is quite mysterious. We read of a voice coming from a bush that is in flames but is not burning. Some skeptics have tried to debunk the event as a hallucination on the part of Moses. Professor of cognitive psychology, Benny Shanon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem suggested in his paper “Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis” that Moses was under the influence of entheogens which are drugs from plants used in religious rituals that come from Peganum harmala or Wild Rue. While the idea is interesting, it fails to account to the fact that this ‘burning bush voice’ was very articulate and knew of events beyond that which Moses was aware of making it impossible to be a hallucination on the part of the aforementioned. Moreover, Shanon himself stated that he had no proof for his ideas. Other skeptics have tried to explain the ‘burning bush’ as deriving from ‘earthquake lights‘ which is a phenomenon similar to that of the auroras but which appear often as spheres on the land. Again, these ideas are interesting but offer no solid proof that what Moses encountered was in fact an ‘earthquake light.’
What the ‘burning bush’ represents is a theophany, or God revealing Himself using nature. If the ‘burning bush’ was an ‘earthquake light,’ then God clearly used the opportunity to use this natural phenomenon to get Moses’ attention. The story shows us that God cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). He tells Moses that He heard the cries of His people. Before that, He tells Moses to remove his sandals before stepping on holy ground. The removal of sandals was part of the culture of this time. It was a sign of etiquette just like in western culture it is polite for a gentleman to remove his hat when indoors or before a lady. Moreover, the removal of the sandals is connected to the washing of the feet. Moses removes his sandals because they represent the dirt of the world. We cannot come to God ‘dirty,’ so to speak. This is why Jesus washes our feet (John 13:1-17). He prepares us to enter into God’s holiness. The removal of the sandals shows the distinction between God and mortal man who is not yet ready to enter into the presence of God. Moreover, God sends Moses to Egypt to rescue His people. Moses asks God for a name so that the people would believe Him and God tells him that “I AM” is sending him. The name “I AM’ is how God presents Himself. This name which is ‘YHWH’ or “Yahweh” says much about the nature of God. God is “I AM” or the one who IS. He has no beginning and no end. The name “I AM” shows the ontological essence of God. He simply is. He exists without dependence on anyone or anything (Isaiah 45:5). This first reading should remind us that God cares for us and that we must remind ourselves that we are still in sin and cannot approach God fully. We must take off our sandals at confession, so to speak and prepare to see God via the Holy Eucharist until we see Him as He really is. God never forgets His people and is merciful towards them as we read in the Psalm today.
God is kind and merciful. He pardons all things, heals us and brings forth kindness and compassion (Isaiah 43:25-26). In the Lord we have justice and rights. All human rights come from God, not men or courts. In this year of Mercy, we must remind ourselves that God is slow to anger. This does not mean that He will excuse us. It means that He will forgive us if we genuinely ask for forgiveness. We must not be arrogant by believing that we have salvation secured as the second reading tells us.
The second reading reminds us that our ancestors were all under the cloud, passed through the sea and were baptized into Moses. This of course is referring to the events of the Exodus (Exodus 14). These events were a preparation for Christ. St. Paul reminds us that everyone in the period of the Exodus has the same spiritual food, but God was not happy with all of them and punished them. These people are not an example for us in regards to how not to serve God. We must not be ingrates or like the Hebrews were during the time of Moses (Psalm 95:8). God rescued them and they built an idol in return and worshiped it (Exodus 32). We must not be like them. We must not desire evil things. This is why we are in the season of Lent and why we ‘give up’ something in order to condition ourselves to be detached.
Finally in the Gospel, we read of Jesus explaining that all people are sinners regardless of what action they may have taken in their lives. All must repent for all have sinned. Then He tells the story of the man who planted a fig tree which did not produce fruit. For three years the tree produced nothing so the owner orders it to be cut down because it is using up the soil and not producing anything. However, the gardener tells the owner to leave it another year so he can cultivate it, fertilize it and prepare it to bear fruit. God gives us chances even when we do not produce fruit. In this year of Mercy, this Gospel should speak to us directly and strongly. We are like the fig tree planted in the soil. Many times we will not produce fruit because of our sins and lack of response to God’s grace. God has every right to ‘cut us down,’ so to speak, but He is merciful (Matthew 13:42). Jesus is the gardener who gives a second chance and offers to cultivate us so we can bear fruit. During this Lent, we must make use of the Sacraments, penance, our faith and prayer in order to allow Jesus to cultivate us so that we can bear fruit. Let us allow Jesus to cultivate our lives so that we may bear fruit. Let us not imitate those in the desert during the time of Moses who disrespected God. Let us listen to God’s voice wherever it is coming from, especially in our hearts.