Marc Chagall, ‘Moses and the burning bush’, from The Story of Exodus, Original lithograph on Arches wove paper, 1966.
‘Ever-present as promise’
Ordinary Sunday 19, Year B
John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life …”
There are seven “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel. In addition to the bread of life, Jesus compares himself to light in darkness (8:12), a gate to safe pasture (10:9), a good shepherd (10:11), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way or path (14:6), and the true vine who fulfils Israel’s destiny (15:1; Isaiah 5).
Each echoes the revelation to Moses, by way of an angel and (un)burning bush, where God calls Moses to lead the Israelite captives to freedom.
When Moses asks God’s name, the divine reply is enigmatic (Exodus 3:14).
All-too confidently (according to Greek or Scholastic thought) we read/hear, “I am who I am”. Jewish and Liberation theologians prefer, “I will be who I will be”. Philosopher of religion Richard Kearney suggests, “I am who may be”.
The presence and the promise of God be with you …
However enigmatic, how we read this key text, how we understand God’s name (the consonants YHWH appear 6,000 times in the First Testament), will determine how we hear God’s call. Ever-present as promise, as possibility, our God refuses to be spellbound (Martin Buber).
In the (holy) heat of the moment, I imagine God saying to Moses:
“I am not a name that you can possess, not an idol that you can revere, not a thing that you can have. I am a promise. I am who may be. I am who will be, shall be, can be, may be in history, incarnate in history if you respond to my command to be free, to be just and to be loving …”
In light of the event (I can’t help seeing images of forests in flames), I imagine Moses, and all the prophets, saying to us:
“If there is a gift there is a giver, if there is a call there is a caller … a ‘still small voice’ – an Other, always another, always a stranger, who whispers, personally, trans-personally, supra-personally: Where are you? Can I come now? Often a call of the earth – in-finitely sounding – not just to nomads in the desert but to multi-species dwellers of forests, rivers, mountains, and seas. A call to which we are all free to respond with love for the world – or not” (after Richard Kearney).
Jesus says, “I am the bread. Eat and receive nourishment, become what you receive.”
Jesus says, “I am the light … inviting you to look and see, to imagine, to create.”
“I am the gate … means of access, safe coming and going. Will you welcome and set free?”
“I am a good shepherd … drawing together the lost and least likely. Will you face your fears? Will you live your life for others?”
Jesus says, “I am the resurrection … power of renewal … encouraging new life, awareness.”
“I am the way … this person before you, these eyes and these hands.”
“I am the true vine … interconnectedness. Do you realise the thrill and joy of it? Will you share in this with me?” Amen.