Column: Reading bridges old and new understanding of God

Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

Sometimes, when a woman gets married, she retains her maiden name, while at the same time adding her husband’s last name. That way, she is able to keep a link to her former identity, while still recognizing this major change in her life.

Something similar happened when God was revealed to Moses in the burning bush, in the third chapter of the Book of Exodus.

Moses learned God’s proper name, a name which was probably pronounced “Yahweh” (Ex 3:14). Further- more, Moses learned about the momentous action that God was about to take on behalf of the Hebrew people, to liberate them from bondage in Egypt.

In the face of all these significant developments, God wants to maintain continuity with the past. That is why God says to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Ex 3:6).

In other words, the God who will liberate the Hebrew people, the God who will go under the name of “Yahweh,” is not a new God. The God of the burning bush and the God of the Hebrews’ ancestors is one and the same.

When Peter addresses the crowd in Sunday’s first reading — Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 — he draws upon those phrases from the Book of Exodus to describe God: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the
God of our fathers.” Once again, these phrases emphasize continuity with the past. The God who has been revealed through Jesus Christ is the same God the patriarchs knew, the same God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. The God who has brought salvation through Jesus Christ is the same who feed the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt.. It is one and the same.

At the same time, there is something different now in the equation. That is Jesus Christ. In Peter’s address to the crowd, the word “servant” is applied to Jesus, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.”

The word the Lectionary has trans- lated here as “servant” can also mean “child.” The latter translation would suggest a more daring understanding of Jesus’ relationship to God, as God’s only begotten Son. So, the text preserves a certain ambiguity. It bridges the older understanding from the Old Testament of the one God who could have a human servant, and the new understanding of God, through Jesus Christ, of the God who would have a Son, both truly human and truly divine.

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