Ex 32:7-14; Ps 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; Jn 5:31-47
The LORD remembered his people and favored them even in their infidelity. This responsorial psalm remembers the day that Moses was on the heights of the mountain and the LORD was so angry that he almost forgot his people. The psalm is full of praise for the faithfulness of the LORD at the very moment when his people were unfaithful and made a calf at Horeb and adored a molten image. “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock.” They swapped their dignity as sons and daughters of the LORD for the security of an idol they could see. These former slaves were still very insecure, and they took refuge in what they could remember. They remembered the idols of Egypt and made an idol to take the place of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They preferred a god they could see and carry with them rather than the unseen god who had raised them up out of slavery and saved them with such great deeds in Egypt. The LORD had worked such wondrous deeds in the land of Ham and terrible things at the shore of the Red Sea. This faithful God they forgot. They remembered a lifeless idol, and they became what they worshiped. The wrath of God was close to flaring up when Moses, his chosen one, spoke on their behalf and withstood him in the breach. Moses turned back God’s destructive wrath. The LORD Almighty gave a mere human being the power to influence his decisions. The full account of this saving moment in the history of God’s People we hear about in the first reading from today’s mass. In the Holy Gospel from Saint John we hear about the role of the New Moses standing in the breach for all of us sinners, for all who believe in the testimony of Jesus the Christ. This great drama of salvation history unfolds before the eyes of faith as we approach Holy Week and Easter.
As we approach the yearly remembrance of our escape from the slavery to sin and death, some great mysteries are gradually revealed. Perhaps, the brazing wrath of God is all we can see of his glory in this world. The LORD is holy and his holiness is so bright that we back away in fear; we shake in our boots, and shield our eyes in the light of His Face. Yet, why is the LORD so angry? Because we have, as the psalm reminded us, “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock.” We have denied our own true dignity; we have chosen to be animal like, mere beasts, instead of beloved and beautiful children of the God of Glory, the Lord of Love. We have injured ourselves by sin. We have become our own worst enemies because we continue to choose defilement. What loving father would not be angry? Such anger is completely justified. Without this response we would never get the message. We are slow to learn, very slow to learn. However, this is not the only revelation taking place here. We see the Lord of Glory face to face with a Humble Moses. This man, this chosen one, today passes the test. At an earlier time in his own life Moses became enraged and struck out to kill an Egyptian who was abusing a fellow Israelite. It was the fear of being discovered and arrested that caused him to flee Egypt and seek refuge among a foreign people. It seems that Moses has learned from his blazing wrath to respond with mercy rather than might. Not that God needed to learn this lesson from Moses, but Moses needed to have his humility tested. His pride could have motivated him to welcome becoming the father of a new people. He could have seen this whole situation from a very myopic perspective rather than considering the Lord’s own reputation in history and the people who had escaped from slavery. Indeed, the humility of Moses is nothing when compared to the humility of God who is blazing in glory upon the cross of shame and humiliation. In the New Moses, we see face to face the true dignity of the Lord of Glory. His love and mercy are far more glorious than his wrath and anger, and in this we have eternal salvation and true security.
Moses wrote about Christ. The Old Moses wrote about the New Moses, Jesus Christ. As the synoptic tradition testifies the Lord Jesus is the New Law. He is the Word Incarnate; Christ is the Law made flesh. In his own flesh and blood, broken open and poured out, the New Covenant is made and the Old Covenant is fulfilled. The Lord Jesus in today’s gospel passage appeals to the legal tradition of his ancestors in the flesh. He does not testify on his own behalf because such a testimony would have no power, no validity, no truth. However, John the Baptist did testify on his behalf when he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This blazing testimony opened hearts closed in years of darkness and disappointment. However, that word was just a burning and shining lamp; a greater testimony comes from the Father, from doing the works that the Father gave him to accomplish. The Lord Jesus is not looking for human affirmation or praise in all the signs and wonders he worked before the crowds and his disciples. Such praise he will never receive from the Jewish Leaders. However, the Lord Jesus knows their hearts, and he knows that they do not have the love of God in them. This is the same sadness that the Father knew in his heart when after terrible signs and great wonders; still they rejected God and preferred the image of a grass-eating bullock. Now the New Moses comes and he is rejected because the leaders prefer political power and national stability. Indeed, as we move slowly through the Paschal Mysteries, we must ask do we prefer any idol to the True Image of God, Christ the Lord?