Third Sunday in Lent

March 28, 2022 | By Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, Ph.D., S.T.D.

“We Need a New Moses in Our Day”

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
This morning’s scripture and the tragic events unfolding in our world compel us to pray
that God will raise up a new Moses in our midst.

When I was 12 years old, my parents allowed me to take the elevated train to downtown
Chicago by myself for the first time. I was excited. I was going to the McVicker’s Theater for a
matinee performance of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” I was fascinated by the
story of Moses from the opening notes of the powerful musical score by Elmer Bernstein to the
final words of Moses to the children of Israel crossing the Jordan river, “Go, proclaim liberty
throughout all of the land and unto all of the inhabitants thereof.” I was captivated by Charlton
Heston’s towering performance as the deliverer of the Jewish people from bondage under the
tyrannical Pharoah Rameses II, portrayed with menacing power by Yul Bryner. While I was
dazzled by the scenes of the parting of the Red Sea and the fiery carving of the commandments, I
was particularly moved by the Burning Bush scene described in this morning’s reading from the
Book of Exodus.

Moses, having fled the court of Pharoh is tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro,
in Median. He sees a bush that burns but is not consumed. He decides to turn aside and see this
great sight. As he draws closer, he hears the voice of God: “Moses! Moses!” He says, “Here I
am.” “Come no nearer Moses! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place whereon you
stand is holy ground. I AM the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the
God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face in fear in the divine presence. The Lord says, “I surely have
seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt and have heard their cries by reason of their
task masters. Therefore, I have chosen you, Moses, to lead them out of bondage into a land
flowing with milk and honey.”

Moses says, “But when I tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ they
will ask, ‘What is His name?’” “Tell them, ‘I AM who AM. I AM that I AM.’ You shall tell
them: ‘I AM has sent me unto you.’”

This epic film of the birth of freedom stirred my interest in classical music, Jewish and
African history, Egyptian architecture, and the art of film making. But most of all, it stirred my
interest in the story of Moses, the connections between his story and the story of Jesus and the
relevance of this great parable of human deliverance to the stories of oppression and the need for
deliverance in our word today.

The first chapters of Exodus tell that, as the number of Hebrew people in Egypt grew into
a multitude, the pharaohs enslaved them, forcing them to build treasure cities for them. When
pharaoh heard the prophecy that a deliverer had been born to lead the children of Israel out of
bondage, he ordered the death of every newborn Hebrew male.

Moses’s mother, Yoschebel, placed the infant in a basket and put it afloat on the Nile
River, where he was found by the daughter of Pharoah, who raised Moses as her own son. The
story in the Gospel of Matthew of the Maji from the east telling King Harod that they have come
to do homage to the newborn “king of the Jews” and Herod’s decree that every newborn Hebrew
male must die and Joseph, having had a dream of this cruel plot, takes Mary and her newborn
son on the flight into Egypt, is a parallel construction leading some commentators to suggest that
maybe Matthew has constructed this story to show that Jesus is the new Moses. Like Moses, He
is protected from infanticide, and he is a Jewish leader who came out of Egypt.

Exodus 2:11 tells us the young Moses saw the suffering of his brothers and sisters. When
he saw an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew, like himself, he grew angry and killed the
Egyptian. Moses fled from Egypt, but Exodus does NOT tell us how Moses learned that he was a
Hebrew and not an Egyptian. He ended up a long way from Egypt, in the land of Midian.
There, he was befriended by Jethro, married one of his daughters, and began a new life as
a shepherd. How did Moses make the transition from being a worshiper of the idols of Egypt to
worshiping the one true God of the Israelites? Did it happen gradually while living in Midian
with Jethro’s family? Or, did it happen all at once with the burning bush experience? We do not
know.

Through the centuries researchers have asked, Did Moses really see a bush that was on
fire and yet was not consumed by the fire? Was this some kind of natural phenomenon as the 10
plagues on the Egyptians and the parting of the Red Sea might have been natural phenomenon
and not what we generally call a miracle? This is possible. But the point of the story is not the
bush. The point is the angel. Though angels are invisible divine messengers, Moses somehow
sees the Angel of the Lord and this is what gets his attention triggering a life changing
experience.

The rest of Moses’ life was filled with titanic struggles. First the struggle with the
pharaoh of Egypt who refused to the command of Moses, “Thus says the Lord, Let my people
go!” It was only after the death of his first born son that Pharaoh freed the Hebrews. Then Moses
struggled to form this disorganized group into a people committed to worshiping the one true
God. After receiving the commandments on Mt. Sinai, he found that his people had become idol
worshipers, worshiping a golden calf. God’s chosen people were made to wonder in the desert
for 40 years before they could cross over Jordan into Canaan, the promised land. However,
Moses did not cross with them. Because the Lord was angry with him, he was forbidden to do so,
because of his disobedience and doubts. There arose since in Israel no other prophet like unto
Moses whom the Lord knew face-to-face. His God IS God!

Every morning’s news reminds us that the world truly needs prophetic leaders with
Moses’ wisdom and courage. Who on the world stage can lead the innocent people of Ukraine
out of the bondage of war inflicted on them by Vladimir Putin? (So many dead, millions of
refugees, so much destruction, and a threat of cyber, chemical, and nuclear weapons.) Who can
prevent one man from holding the world hostage at gun point?

Many would say that the obvious deliverer is Ukraine’s own Jewish President Volodymyr
Zelensky who has demonstrated the heroic courage and wisdom of a Winston Churchill during
every day of this unjust war, in which his life is in constant danger.
If not President Zelensky, who else could it be?

Could it be President Joseph Biden, whose leadership has united NATO and the western
world in opposing President Putin’s unjust war, providing billions in arms to Ukraine, imposed
massive, crippling sanctions on Russia, while vowing not to send in U.S. military and promising
to avoid World War III?

Could it be Kiril, the Patriarch of Moscow, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, an
outspoken defender of the war who has called President Putin’s leadership “a miracle from
God?” Could not Russia’s powerful religious leader open his heart to the clear teachings of Jesus
Christ at the center of the Russian Orthodox faith and challenge Mr. Putin to stop the mass
murders?

Could it be Xi Jinping, President of the vast, powerful atheistic Communist Peoples
Republic of China, who has called Mr. Putin his best friend? Could he be moved by pragmatic
necessity to see that he would be on the wrong side of history, if he provides money and arms to
Mr. Putin’s war? Could world public opinion help him to see the wisdom in condemning the war
and seeking to persuade Mr. Putin to withdraw his forces?

Could it be His Holiness, Pope Francis, who personally broke protocol and went to the
Russian embassy in Rome to beg Russia not to invade Ukraine? He met with the Moscow
Patriarch by video on Wednesday, he condemned the war in the strongest possible terms as the
barbaric murder of our sisters, our brothers, and our children, he has spoken directly with all the
leaders involved in pleading for peace, and he has used quiet diplomatic channels offering
himself as a mediator and reconciler.

But, the Holy Father has studiously avoided condemning Mr. Putin and Russia by name.
Some bishops in Europe think the hour has come for him to do just that.
Could it be the Russian people themselves, armed with accurate information about this
unjust invasion? Could they rise up, make their voices heard, and remove Mr. Putin from his
tyrannical presidency?

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ: As you receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ
this morning, please pray with all seriousness. Pray that God will inspire one or more of these
world leaders, or someone else, to see the bush that burns and is not consumed and hears the
inner voice proclaiming “I AM Who AM. I Am that I AM”, commanding them to tell Mr. Putin
to let God’s people go and deliver our sisters and brothers in Ukraine from the bondage of war,
suffering and death, and find the path that leads to reconciliation and peace!
If no latter-day Moses emerges, then what? Might this horrific war explode at our very
doorsteps?

If no latter-day Moses emerges, then what?
Praise be Jesus Christ. Both Now and forever. AMEN!

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