Pr17A I will be who I will be

Exodus 3:1-15 Romans 12:9-21 Matthew 16:21-28

Some people don’t surprise us anymore.  We’ve listened to them and watched them. We know what to expect. We can predict their next move, their next choice – even their next mistake.  We’ve seen it all before and we are pretty sure we know what’s next.

Peter was pretty sure he knew Jesus. In last week’s first reading Peter was the one who intuited Jesus’ identity and said, “You are the messiah!”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you…You are a rock!” Now, only five verses later, Jesus calls Peter a rock again, but not in a good way: “you are stumbling block to me.” (Mtt.16:23)

Peter thought he knew Jesus and was trying to protect him from making the mistake of going to Jerusalem. Peter was sure Jerusalem would be a place of conflict, trial and possibly death. He was not wrong about Jerusalem. He just didn’t know as much about Jesus as he thought he did.

In this week’s first reading, Moses wanted to know more about God. God’s name, to start with. Not unreasonable given all that God had asked Moses to do:

  • leave his home and family (in Midian where he felt safe and appreciated)

  • return to Egypt (where no one liked him)

  • talk to Pharaoh (who already wanted to arrest and kill him)

  • ask Pharaoh to let the Hebrew slaves leave Egypt and be free (even though Pharaoh needed their slave labor) and

  • persuade the Hebrew slaves to follow him (even though they didn’t trust him).

God’s answer seems evasive: “I will be who I will be.”

Non-disclosure of the divine name is a longstanding preference of God’s (Gen.32:30.)  Perhaps because in the biblical world, as in the world of magic,[1] to know a person’s name was to possess power or control over them,  so God sidestepped the name question.

The opportunity for Moses, and for us, is to worry less about who God is and what God will do and focus more on who we are and what we can do.

God promises to go with us to the dangerous places: to Egypt with Moses, to Jerusalem with the disciples. But God goes with us, not in place of us. It’s not about leaving it all up to God. The challenges to be met in the dangerous places — the injustices to be righted — require us: our care, our worry, our wits, our talents, our power and our passions. Our best efforts will sometimes be successful and sometimes they will not be. Good Friday was not a success.

God said, “I will be who I will be.” Like Moses, we wish we knew more. Like Peter, we know less about God than we think we do. We do not know enough to predict God’s behavior or the success of our efforts. Perhaps we will be surprised — by God, and by our very own selves.

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[1] Exodus 1-18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, William H.C. Propp, The Anchor Yale Bible (Yale University Press, New York 2010) at 224.

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