We all know something about Moses, but I remind us that he had an unusual upbringing: he was a Jew who, since the time he was a baby, had been raised as an Egyptian. As a young man though, he had gotten into trouble, and fled Egypt. He lived for many years as an exile, having established a new and stable life. It’s hard to know how much he was aware of his true ethnic identity. Did he know he was a Hebrew, or did he think himself truly an Egyptian? But even if he knew his true ethnicity, like all the Hebrews who were slaves in Egypt, he had lost sight of the God of his ancestors.
He would soon have no doubt about his ethnic identity. In his new life, on an ordinary day, doing his ordinary work, a theophany occurred, the God he had never known, reached out to him. To his amazement, Moses saw an ordinary, thorny shrub—yet it was ablaze. In that arid region, a bush like that would have burned up quickly and thoroughly, yet curiously, this one remained filled with fire, yet not consumed.
As he watched it, surely mesmerized, he heard a voice, perhaps like a whisper in his head: Moses! Moses!….I am the God of your fathers….the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry….I know well what they are suffering. I have come to rescue them. In other words: My beloved sons and daughters don’t even know that it is me they need. They have forgotten me, but I never forgot them.
For all the ways that we are inclined to think of God as something like the Force on Star Wars, or a sort of organic energy that underlies the universe—pantheism, as we would call it—this reading reveals that while God is both mystery and infinitude, he is also proximate, intelligible, and personal. Moses! Moses! I have come to rescue my people. Our God speaks and acts.
I read a Jewish commentary, comparing the flame in the bush to the flame that then came to life in Moses’ heart[i]. His heart came to burn yet remained unconsumed. Pope John Paul II once compared the burning bush to the Heart of Jesus: A furnace burns everything material, whether wood or other easily combustible substance. But the Heart of Jesus, the human Heart of Jesus, burns with the love that fills it….an unquenchable furnace. In this it resembles the "burning bush" of the book of Exodus….the bush that burned with fire, but is not consumed. Indeed, the love that burns in the heart of Jesus….the human Heart of God-Man, is embraced by the "living flame" of Trinitarian love that never fails. The Heart of Jesus—the burning furnace of charity—enlightening the darkness of night and warming the bodies of pilgrims numb with cold.[ii]
In the way that God revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Horeb, speaking to Him in that living flame, so He does to us in the heart of Jesus. We often see it imaged as the Sacred Heart, and all the ways it resembles the burning bush: aglow with light, wrapped in thorny branches, and flames emerging from within—and yet it too remains unconsumed.
We see that heart at the intersection of those two wooden beams, in the breast of Jesus crucified. But we also see that heart—not so different from what Moses saw—in the monstrance on the altar. It’s there that God would tell you, “I am here to rescue you. I know your affliction and how you suffer. My heart burns with love for you”.
I want to encourage you during these days of Lent to make some time to come to adoration, to place yourself before Him, to bear in mind whatever ways you are enslaved and need freedom. We may not be slaves in the way we commonly think of it. Instead, we’re enslaved to things like:
our destructive habits of the heart, such as anger, pride, envy;
a wound within that gives way to fear, self-doubt and negativity;
an unhealthy appetite or compulsion, such as drink, food, sexual impulses;
a fear of not being relevant or loved, of being rejected, and forgotten;
a distorted self-identity, that tells us our measure is based upon our work, our financial success and material goods, an outward appearance of having it ‘together’;
an attitude of ingratitude for the people in our lives….
He knows your heart, how it hurts, how it wants freedom, truth, peace. He knows your heart….But do you? What are you enslaved to…even if you usually don’t even bear it in mind….or even if a part of you likes being enslaved to it? As He spoke to Moses from the thorny bush, the burning and Sacred Heart of our Lord says, “I have come for you, to set you free”. Make time for adoration. Come lay your heart before Him in the silence so that you can begin to sort through the stuff in your heart. Then bring it confession and be freed.
[ii] Angelus Message, 1985