In this Sunday’s reading from the book of Exodus, the image of “holy ground” has special meaning. For centuries, spiritual writers have written about the significance of holy ground and holy places. The whole area around Sinai, with its rugged, natural beauty, and an ancient monastery still standing at the foot of God’s holy mountain, are silent witnesses to God’s entrance into our history. Near it, Moses was simply “minding his business,” keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, when he comes to Mt. Horeb, the “mountain of God.” Horeb has this special designation probably because of the divine apparitions that took place there.
The Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush. The bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to look, He called to him from out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Fearful, shocked and amazed, Moses became aware that someone who knows him must be here, someone who is truly interested in him. In fact, Moses hears his name called out twice. So, Moses said, “Here I am.” Then the Lord said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
The Lord’s strong words to Moses from the bush are a stern warning, as if Moses were being told: “Moses, you are not going to come to Me by enclosing Me into your personal scheme of things. You are not the one to integrate Me into your personal plans. Instead, I want to fit you into my Master Plan!”
That’s a lesson for us. No one of us just waltzes up to an availability in the mystery of God. The Lord God, who sought Moses where he just happened to be, does the same with each of us. We must never forget that while God revealed himself to Moses in a particular place and through a particular fashion, this does not limit God to those places and ways. Our human tendency to limit God to certain times, places and peoples will be lessened to the degree that we come to understand his absolute sovereignty. The presence of God and the power of Jesus cannot be limited to mere places. So, we should recognize God’s great ability to break through the distances, structures, borders and rules we have created in order to speak to us, wherever we are, the words once spoken to Moses.
In the Old Testament, the Torah speaks about a rock from which water issued, though Jewish rabbinic legend amplified this into a spring that followed the Israelites throughout their migration. St. Paul applies this image to Christ, the source of the living water, the same God that accompanied Israel, guiding their experiences in the desert. Paul refers to a spiritual rock that followed the people. He makes the rock itself accompany the Israelites, and he gives it a spiritual sense. The rock was Christ, who is God the Son.
During his Pilgrimage years ago at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, St. John Paul II said: “Here on Mount Sinai, the truth of ‘who God is’ became the foundation and guarantee of the Covenant. Moses enters ‘the luminous darkness,’ and there he is given the Law ‘written with the finger of God.’ But what is this Law? It is the Law of life and freedom! At the Red Sea, the people …. had seen the power and fidelity of God; they had discovered that He is the God who does indeed set his people free as He had promised. But now, on the heights of Sinai, this same God seals his love by making the Covenant that He will never renounce. If the people obey his Law, they will know freedom forever. The Exodus and the Covenant are not just events of the past; they are forever the destiny of all God’s people!
“The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today as always, the Ten Commands of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw man into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, and the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbor. If we turn from these false idols and follow the God who sets his people free and remains always with them, then we shall emerge like Moses, after forty days on the mountain, ‘shining with glory,’ ablaze with the light of God!”
God wants to be honored in and through the growth of his creatures. He enshrines in our heart the mystery of liberating obedience, which finds its fulfillment in the perfect obedience of Christ, from his birth in Bethlehem to his crucifixion in Jerusalem. In Him, we find the meaning of our encounter: the all-powerful and all merciful Creator of the universe and Lord of history, who at the end of our earthly existence will judge us with perfect justice.