Our story, our history, is found in the Old Testament. Each book we find there tells another part of the story. So if we think of Genesis as the story of our beginning, then we might consider Exodus as the story of our early childhood. In today’s first reading and the verses preceding it in Exodus, God teaches the Israelites – and us – how to be His people. He teaches and cares for them just as parents do with small children. God has led them out of Egypt, protected and cared for them. He provides manna and water. He draws them ever closer to Himself. And he sets some rules for them to follow. But they continue to be unfaithful. And God is angry with them, just as a parent might be, realizing the self-destructiveness of the child’s behavior. God calls them a stiff-necked people. But Moses pleads their case, begging God to pardon their wickedness and sins and to receive them as God’s own.
And God says He will be with them, telling them, that he is a merciful and gracious God, that he will forgive their sins – although not declaring the guilty guiltless. Just as a loving parent holding the small, crying child might say, “It’s all right, I love you, I forgive you.” Knowing at the same time, a punishment must be given because the child must be taught not to behave this way again.
We will always be God’s children. Sometimes, we are very much “a stiff-necked people,” Stiff-necked is defined as being haughtily stubborn. How many times and in how many ways are we stubborn, refusing to change, to leave our self-centered ways? And yet, our God continues to be kind and merciful.
Exodus also tells us of the importance of worship. God speaks to Moses about how he wants his people to pray and teaches that repentance for sins is to be part of prayer. In Eucharist, we begin our thanksgiving by approaching the Altar of God, begging forgiveness for our transgressions. And God in His mercy and love not only forgives us but gives us the great gift of the Eucharist, the ultimate repentance for our sins.
Let us today give thanks, for our God is indeed a kind and merciful God!
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.