Homily: Exodus 2: 1… 15; Matthew 11: 20-24


SHE GAVE HIM THE NAME MOSES FOR, SHE SAID, "I DREW HIM OUT OF THE WATER." The meaning of names had a particular fascination for the ancients as it still does for traditionalpeoples today. In the Old Testament any number of narratives are provided to explain and justify the names assigned to certain places and persons. This concern for the significance of names is particularly evident in the stories of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his later divinely appointed name, Israel. Each of these names is provided with a story that purports to explain its origin and significance.

The account of Moses continues that popular tradition. In today's first reading we are told what the name Moses means and why it was imposed upon this Hebrew child by its adoptive Egyptian mother. As with a number of the other popular accounts of how a person received his name, this one too reflects its popular origin among the Hebrew people. Mosheh in Hebrew does derive from the verb mashah, to draw out. Pharaoh's daughter, however, spoke Egyptian, not Hebrew and in her language Mose means "is born" and was a common component in names of Egyptian children. No matter; the name symbolizes the association of Moses with being saved from the water and saving through water at the deliverance of his people by passing through the Red Sea.

The sacred text makes a theological point here that is fundamental: God is all wise and all-powerful. He cares for his chosen people and nothing can thwart his will. Pharaoh's daughter is made to serve God's plan of salvation even in opposition to the edict of her cruel father. Moses is a man of destiny, specially protected and chosen by God to deliver his people from slavery. The Lord is Lord of history; not only persons but also events reveal his intentions and serve his purposes. His care for those who believe and obey him extends to whatever details contribute to the realization of his intent. His presence is everywhere active; even those who do not know him so act as to carry out his purposes unaware though they remain of the hidden significance of their behavior. Pharaoh's own daughter disobeys him in obedience to a higher Ruler, not conscious of his identify. She even foreshadows the future deliverance that the Lord will effect through Moses by giving him a name that means " I drew him out from the water."

This meaning of the narrative of Moses is hidden to those who read only on the surface of the text and of history. It is meant to be searched out, however, by the sacred author, as the prophets and later on St. Paul, well understood. Only the eyes of faith can discover it. We must desire to recognize what God discloses in his inspired authors as well as in the lives of the persons He chooses to be examples for us if we are to discover his message. As the story of Moses reveals, such disclosure is an invitation to act with trust in the God who reveals his way to us. This way is straight, leading to salvation, life with God; it is also, as Jesus was to teach later on, narrow and confined, passing through many sufferings and testings.

In today's Gospel the Lord Jesus rebukes those persons who heard his message but refused to give their adherence to it. His words are cutting and direful indeed. "Woe to you… you will be cast down to Hades." As we know history was to bear him out; destruction followed in the wake of their refusal. Later the Lord was to weep over Jerusalem for the same reason: he saw what was to follow because they refused belief in his word and adherence to his person.

The way that leads to salvation is a way of life. It is a narrow way, not easy to follow; indeed, often enough, barely possible to discover, especially when we are overtaken by sorrow and confront the limits and pain of this life. At times of temptation and suffering we can barely see one step ahead and can proceed only by trust that the Lord accompanies us even now and knows the way for it is the path he took in his return to the Father. As he comes to us in the Eucharist this morning may he give us the light to see and the strength to follow this way that passes through the valley of sorrow as it leads to the city of life and light where God is all in all.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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