Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9; II Cor 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18
Despite the passage of centuries, I do believe that to this day Moses, people Israel, and the whole experience of the exodus and exile has something to teach us about our own lives. Their story really is our story. We know what it feels like to live in exile from others at times, even from God. It so often seems, in such contentious times with Moses and the people, that they lose their ability to relate to one another and to God and move towards cutting themselves off, moving into this tribal mentality of winners and losers, where, in the end, everyone ends up losing.
The same is true for ourselves and the climate in which we live these days. On many levels we’ve lost the ability to relate to anyone different than ourselves and have really exiled ourselves from one another or at least from people that we have deemed the losers, the ones that think differently, creating this divide, and like people Israel, we have become stuck. We can’t relate to others and then for that matter, with God.
Think about their experience, though, in relation to ourselves. Despite this newfound freedom that people Israel experiences following the exodus, they don’t know quite what to do with themselves. It’s as if they had become accustomed to being slaves in Israel that they no longer know how to live. They don’t understand what’s up with Moses and his seemingly strange experiences, but they also don’t understand God. Keep in mind that this experience has impacted them on a very deep level. They had gotten used to a God that seemed to abandon them. They had gotten used to a God that seemed to reject them over and over again, and now as they move to this place of freedom, they don’t know how to act and they certainly don’t know how to relate. They react to it all and create these false gods for themselves, grouping themselves and finding, at times, a common enemy in Moses for leading them to this place. It’s simply their experience but so is being stuck as they seem to become in the throws of the desert for years to come. As Moses tries to lead them to a deeper understanding of this God, a God of mercy and generosity, their hearts remain closed and they become, as he so often refers, the stiff-necked people. As life changes so does the way we relate to others and especially to God.
This is what we encounter in this snippet we hear from John’s Gospel today. In its larger context is an interaction with one of the more interesting characters in the gospel, Nicodemus who’s known for coming to Jesus at night. At this point in John’s community, some fifty years after their formed, there is a great deal of contention and division. We have certainly heard that during the Lenten and Easter seasons as Jesus often found himself in conflict with the leaders. Well, Nicodemus was one of them. He has his own way of relating in the life of the community as a Pharisee and is not yet willing to put that in jeopardy so he comes to Jesus at night. As much as people Israel didn’t know what to make of a God that wanted to enter into relationship with them, even centuries later they still can’t quite grasp now this God who takes the form of one of them in Jesus. It causes more tribal thinking, certainly among the Pharisees who had their own way and were stuck in that thinking. For them there had to be winners and losers. For Nicodemus, despite being one of them, he finds himself somewhat attracted to this Jesus guy and what he’s all about. For John it is a process we go through, of letting go and reconciling, allowing ourselves to move forward in life with a fresh take on the way we relate to one another and to God, not in some distant universe, but right here in the midst of our own lives as they unfold.
In the end, it’s probably Paul that sums it up best for us in today’s second reading and provides us the tool to look at our own lives and the way we relate. Just because we’ve related in one way all our lives doesn’t mean that it’s the best way or even the healthiest way. Again, we see that on the large scale in our political system and the divides, people moving to the extremes. Paul reminds us to mend our ways. Reconcile with one another. Love stands as the foundation of relationship and community. Work towards peace. Among other tidbits of ideas that he shares with us today. If we continue to cling to a God that rejects, abandons, or shames us, it’s just probably not God. There’s a better chance that we can relate to people Israel and find ourselves stuck in life, just as we find ourselves politically. It impacts all of us and the way we relate.
On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, maybe it’s time accept the invitation to be the fourth one at the table and being challenged to change the way we relate. If we cling to tribal thinking, where we’re right and others are wrong, where truth becomes relative, where there needs to be winners and losers, well, guess what, we all lose and we are all losing because we’re being invited to move beyond our stuck-ness and grow into a deeper relationship that goes beyond ideology and politics, to the deeper reality of a God that continues to pursue a relationship with us from deep within our very being and through all creation we encounter. Where are we stuck in our own thinking and understanding not only of others but of God? That’s the place this God pursues us and desires greater and deeper intimacy with us, relating to us in a more profound and deeper way, with others, our community, and with the Mystery that continues to draw us to the place of mercy, generosity, healing, reconciliation, and certainly, love.