Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9
Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai
as the LORD had commanded him,
taking along the two stone tablets.
Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there
and proclaimed his name, "LORD."
Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
"The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."
Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own."
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
In 1989, we were sailing on a small boat. It was storm signal no. 2 and we were in the sea between the islands of Ambulong and Iling (San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. The sea was extraordinarily rough, the waves gigantic. We wanted to go to a village in Iling island to celebrate mass. I was a seminarian then in regency, accompanying my parish priest, Fr. Ryu Ishikawa, an Japanese SVD missionary. After an hour of sailing, the boat sank. It was a blessing that some men from that village were fixing the roof a school saw us and rushed to bring us to the shore. That is the image that the Gregory Nazanzien wants us to remember when we speak of the Trinity – a dangerous sail on a small boat in a rough sea.
After this rhetorical warning, however, Gregory Nazanzien utters a prayer: “But enlighten my mind and loosen my tongue, Spirit of God, and I will sound aloud the trumpet of truth, so that we who are united to God may rejoice with their whole heart (p. 74).” Then he proceeds confidently to talk about God.
There are also many stories created about the inspiring John 3:16. One in particular relates a hardened criminal in prison and a persistent pastor determined to convert him. One cold evening, the prison’s fireplace ran out of wood. That prisoner told the pastor that he should give up his bible to help warm the place. The pastor agreed with one condition: the prisoner must read the pages first before burning them. The story ends with the hardened criminal’s repentance.
What happened? He testified later: “I read and burned Genesis, I read and burned Exodus, I read and burned Leviticus, etc. but when I came to John 3:16, I read and I was “burned”.
“The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation’” (NRSV)
Why this solemn and touching affirmation of God as “merciful, forgiving, abounding in hesed?” In Exodus 32, we read the saddest and most shameful story of Israel – they make for themselves another god, a Golden Calf. They decide that YHWH is no longer their God; they even proclaim that YHWH is not the God who brought them out Egypt. Moses, in a kind of symbolic action, breaks the two tablets of the covenant. The covenant is broken, so too the relationship between YHWH and Israel. YHWH then decides to wipe them out but Moses intercedes for them. YHWH changes his mind. The question of the readers after Israel’s unfaithfulness would be: “Will God still be with his people? Or Will God still trust Israel as covenant partner? In the next chapter, Exodus 33, YHWH says he is no longer to be with the people in their journey to the Promised Land. God’s presence now is in danger. This is a critical moment of the story as well as critical moment of the life of Israel. Again, Moses makes an intercession for the people.
When we think of the Holy Triune God, we remember that he is God who is abounding in hesed.