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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

“Standing on Holy Ground”

Moses at the Burning Bush
Moses at the Burning Bush, by Joe Moorman

They had to hurry up. Joseph and Nicodemus knew that they didn’t have time to spare. So, they left the palace and went straight to the Mount. On their way, they asked some of the woman to bring a clean linen sheet – no expense to spare.

They arrived at the Mount, and they took on to their grimly task. As the sobbing and yet determined women spread out the linen, Joseph and Nicodemus began to lower the Body.

Whom they knew as a slender but yet solid-framed man – He was a carpenter, after all, wasn’t He? – was just a fragile and almost dried up body.

Taking great care, they lowered the Body. On their way to the spread out linen, a few tiny drops of blood from the Broken Body fell on the ground, just one after the other. Soon, as if their own accord, they merged together into a small, thin, deep red line.

Watching the little drops splashing on the dirt, with his own tears joining in, whispering to himself Nicodemus said, “We are standing on holy ground.” “Indeed, my friend; indeed. Like Moses, we are standing on holy ground”, said Joseph.

It is such a thin line what breaks apart seemingly similar ways of thinking, believing, and even “churching”. As God tells Jeremiah (15:19), it is the razor-thin line that separates “what is precious from what it is worthless; the ordinary from what it is godly.”

For the Romans, spilled blood was nothing new. In those days, blood flowed freely and easily – from the backs of slaves to the wounds of gladiators to sacrifices, blood was everywhere. But Calvary was something different. Like in the desert, the Blood from Calvary burned as an unquenchable flame.

While Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, he could not but remember what he had taught his brothers and sisters in Corinth. Like Moses in the desert, God’s presence was what transformed the ordinary into the holy. It was what transformed regular off-the-shelf human beings into temples of the Holy Spirit.

And so, Paul told Tertius, his scribe, “Write this – Don’t follow the ways and patterns of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.”

Holding to what is precious sometimes is easy – at least in theory. What God requires from us, “To do what is right, to love mercy, and to live humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Or in the words of Jesus, “To love God with all you mind, soul, and spirit, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

On the other hand, we all believe that there are things that are plainly evil, and only the most depraved or the truly sick would do. Like getting a gun and start killing innocent bystanders. Or scamming old folks from their money. Or placing oneself and one’s needs and wants above and well beyond everything and anybody else’s.

But sometimes it is not so easy to strain out what it is worthless from what it is precious. Even Jesus recognized it when he told his disciples that following him would turn out to be costly. Even it might have cost someone’s livelihood if not his or her own life.

It may help us to think about the ways of the world as what usually is what we think it is good or ideal for us, and in particular for me, as an individual. As long it is not a “risky” proposition – meaning that it will not inconvenience me in any way.

In our first lesson we heard the story of Moses at the Burning Bush. As you know, when God first calls Moses, he promptly answers, “Here I am, Lord!” And then God asked Moses to take off his shoes, because now, in the presence of the Lord, he was standing in holy ground. No problem there.

But when God gets into the nitty-gritty of what Moses is asked to do, he begins to have second thoughts. So, he begins to argue, “But who am I?” “No problem, Moses, I’ll go along with you,” promised God.

However, Moses still didn’t like the prospect. “But they won’t listen!” he said.

— “Moses, I’ll take care of that. Just go.”

But Moses – like many of us – still wanted to get out of the deal, and so complains, “But if they ask me, who’s sending you, what am I going to say? Don’t you have at least a business card?”

So, from a Moses full of determination to worship God right then and there, no questions asked, eventually we find a Moses full of buyer’s remorse, ambiguity, and self-concern.

In many ways, Moses is us, isn’t it? Churches are full of people willing to spend hours in worship, listening to uplifting music, hearing inspiring messages, but then, after worship is over and one has to go into the world and do what God is asking his followers to do, then questions, fears, and doubts quickly arise. And people go back to “normal.”

In our opening prayer, we asked God to graft in our hearts the love of His Name; to increase in us true religion; to nourish us with all goodness; and to bring forth in us the fruit of good works.

Asking God to graft the love of His Name, check.

Being nourished with all goodness, check.

Bring forth the fruit of good works, check.

But increase in us true religion? What is it meant by “true religion”? Or more exactly, “true religion in us”? Is it joining the “right” church? Following the “most perfect” Creed? Reading the best version of the Bible or praying more?

In the words of James (1:27) true religion is to take care of the sidelined and the powerless – all those whom the world so easily throws under the bus in the name of politics, the economy or better efficiency.

And to keep the world – those things that please no one but ourselves – out of our lives in relationship with God.

For while the world spouses the “No-thread-on-me-and-let-me-do-what-I-want” way of life, Jesus calls us to the “Follow-me-come-what-may” way of life.

It is to consider what Jesus did when on the Cross, having all the right to be concerned about His own state of affairs, even on his lasts, Jesus had time to think beyond himself. “Forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” “John, here, listen. Now she’s your mother.”

In a way, Labor Day Weekend marks the “official” end of the holiday season and marks the beginning of a new season. A new school year, new projects or even a new job, dreams of a white Christmas and, yes, beginning to start dreaming about next year’s holiday season!

As we begin this new season, let this prayer, based on today’s opening prayer and today’s lessons become your daily prayer,

“Dear God – The God of my ancestors, the God of future generations, and my God and Savior. Fill my life with the abundance of your love so that I may strain out from my life all that is worthless from what is godly, what serves me from what honors you. Like Moses in days past, be with me, inspire me, and strengthen me with your most holy and gracious presence in my heart and soul. Amen.”

Fr. Gustavo

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