In the Office of Readings today we read in the Book of Exodus (Chapter 3) of God’s appearance to and call of Moses from the burning bush. One of the things I love about this season of Lent is the opportunity to read again the Book of Exodus. Moses is such an inspiration to me, earlier as a priest, and especially now as a bishop. Moses was sent into a very difficult situation, to deliver God’s word to a defiant King of Egypt and to lead the people of Israel out of slavery into the promised land. Over and over again, Moses’ efforts were challenged, even unappreciated by the people of Israel, yet he continually followed God’s commands and put his trust in God’s fidelity and power. This is a great model for all of us.
Today’s Gospel (Luke 5:27-32) is another account where Jesus calls Levi, a tax collector, to leave his post and follow him. This revelation of God to us; this call of Jesus to follow him seems to be the fundamental call of Lent as well as the historical reality of God’s design and dance with and for all of humanity.
In the times following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the burning bush has become the Church. We are now the Light in the world, calling out to God’s holy faithful people. This is now our mission as the Body of Christ, to reveal God’s goodness and to invite others to follow Jesus.
A challenge in our ever-growing secularized culture is to see how the Goodness of God has been turned on its head to serve individual needs. Rather than becoming frustrated with the many distortions of truth in our world today, we are never-the-less called and sent by God into the midst of this world to be his light and to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world.
Very often today, people want to say: “Do not judge me. Jesus does not judge me.” Granted, we are to treat all people with the same compassion and understanding of Jesus. But let us turn this thought on its head. Sure, Jesus does not want us to judge anyone, but let us invite them to also follow Jesus.
It is in following Jesus that a life becomes purified from the many ways we seek to conform our life to the ways of this world. Jesus called prostitutes (Luke 36-50) to follow him, and they came to understand the great dignity that was theirs, as well as the joy of living the moral life that Jesus preached. People like Levi were called to follow Jesus, and in the process abandoned unethical business practices. People caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11)received compassion and forgiveness from Jesus, and in their experience of this mercy found the motivation to follow the deeper desire of their heart to live a moral life.
So, my dear friends, the mission of the Church is the same today as it always has been. We are first to encounter Jesus and his mercy to discover our own deepest dignity and most meaningful purpose. Then, we are to go into the world as his witness. We are to invite others into the life of Christ, and into the life of the community of believers, which is the Church. Here, we discover and live God’s Kingdom and receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation.