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‘Come along in our company, receive us as your own’

June 8, 2017
Sister Eloise Rosenblatt, RSM

The Gospel passage from John suggests that being saved means we actively believe in God as proof that we are not condemned: “Whoever does not believe has already been condemned.”

Mothers read about condemnation of unbelievers and get distressed. They feel anguish about the children they raised Catholic who no longer practice their religion, or profess any formal belief at all. Will they go to heaven? Parents wonder what they did wrong. They typically argue their children’s case before God. “They don’t go to church, but my children love me. They help me. My children are so fair-minded and attentive, and are raising their kids so beautifully. They work hard, and are completely unselfish and generous, honest and reliable. They volunteer for projects that help the poor and protect the environment. They help their neighbors whenever they get in a jam.”

This moment in Exodus 34 takes place after people’s earlier, disastrous rejection of God’s commandments. It caused Moses to smash the first set of stone tablets in frustration. But God commands Moses to prepare a second set of stone tablets, and once again ascend Sinai.

God comes down in a cloud, and Moses hears the mysterious revelation that consoles him after his failure: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Is God speaking directly to Moses, or is the “voice” coming from the universe? There is a sense of dislocation. Where is the revelation of God’s truest nature coming from? Moses understands that God is not angry at him or at the people for their earlier rejection of God’s directives.

Moses apologizes and makes excuses for his people. “This is indeed a stiff-necked people.” Dominican Father Bernard Couroyer of the École Biblique in Jerusalem, was the original translator of the Book of Exodus for the Jerusalem Bible, and I had the privilege to know this kindly, reverent scholar as a graduate student. Well into his 80s, he did a short article on “stiff-necked,” citing several ancient languages, and concluded the term meant literally “unable to bend one’s ear toward a speaker,” or “unable to hear or listen.”

Did Moses pray to God like a loving parent, unable to criticize his people’s stubbornness? Instead, did he offer a lot of excuses for why they were unable to listen, couldn’t hear and thus couldn’t obey?

They are sad and grieving over all they had to leave behind. They are distracted and burdened by so many cares for their children. Their ears are so ringing with the busy-ness and noise it takes to survive they can’t distinguish your voice. They can’t bend because so many other parts of their body are stiff and in pain. They feel humiliated, absorbed in upholding their honor, dignity and self-respect, and fear failure. They feel so many demands and responsibilities from life, they can’t take on more obligations from you. They feel angry at what you seem to have allowed and they aren’t ready for any conversation about it. Or they have forgotten what your voice sounds like and wonder why you would even be thinking of them after so long a time. They feel overwhelmed-- they have done everything they know how to do, and if this isn’t enough, what more could you ask?

Moses seems to have convinced God. “Come along in our company….receive us as your own.” And there is no condition that people have to believe or listen first.

So God goes with us, claiming us, even if we aren’t noticing or able to hear God’s voice yet. Our God is merciful.

Rosenblatt, RSM _Sr. Eloise - web 100x125Mercy Sister Eloise Rosenblatt is a Ph.D. theologian and an attorney in private practice in family law.

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