What would you say to your child or grandchild or inquiring friend if they approached you and asked you what you thought the name of God is? I suspect many of you have already had this experience. What did you say? How did you try to “name” God? Perhaps you described God as Creator, Supreme Being, Father, Redeemer, Spirit, ultimate Judge, punisher of evil and bringer of Justice? Or, perhaps you focused on some of the attributes of God, e.g., compassionate, all-powerful, forgiving, loving, kind, patient, self-giving, etc.? If you’ve ever been asked the question, “What is the name of God?”, you know how challenging it is to respond adequately.
In today’s first reading, Moses asks that question. He asked God himself as God instructed him to lead the People of Israel out of Egypt where they were being oppressed. “…if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the children of Israel: I AM sent me to you.”
Two words! God’s response to the request for his “name” is just two words: “I Am.” The text goes on and mentions their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and though the people living then had only heard about these important and ancient ancestors, God testified that He was present to them as well. God wants them to understand that He was not only present to their famous forebears, but God is present to them right now. “This is my name forever;
this my title for all generations.”
I suspect they found it difficult, if not impossible, even to imagine that God was present to them. They were living as slaves and had no hope of anything better. How could God possibly be present to them??
There have been times in most of our lives when we’ve felt the same way. Where is God in all this?? How could God be present here in this terrible time of suffering? Why is God absent…or silent? O God, where are you?? The testimony of our first reading challenges us to realize that God is present here, now, in this situation. And, God hears, no God listens deeply to our cry. And, God responds with His great love. Do we see it??
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.