by Father Mike Stubbs
Often, when making a transaction, we do not deal directly with the other person, but instead go through someone else to conduct the negotiations.
For example, in buying a house, we might go through a realtor. Sometimes, we talk about doing away with the middleman, but that is not always possible. That is also true in our relationship with God.
In Sunday’s first reading, Ex 32:7-11, 13-14, Moses appears as a mediator between God and the people of Israel. God does not speak to the people directly, but instead goes through Moses to deliver them a message.
Moses then serves as an intercessor on their behalf. Moses pleads with God not to destroy them, but to give them another chance.
In that respect, Moses echoes the role of Abraham, who pleaded on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Similarly, Moses anticipates the role of Christ, who also serves as a mediator between God and us and who intercedes for us at the right hand of God.
In the conversation with Moses, God threatens to punish the people of Israel by wiping them out:
“Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.”
The dialogue between Moses and God in our reading poses a couple of problems for its interpretation.
First of all, this threat of destroying the people, which evokes the image of an angry and vengeful God, does not go along with our image of a merciful and compassionate God. What is God really like?
Secondly, the action of Moses in pleading with God suggests that it is possible to change God’s mind, that God can be persuaded to change course.
But, doesn’t God already have a plan? In asking to change that plan, are we saying that our plan is better than God’s plan? Isn’t that the height of audacity?
Some interpreters suggest that God doesn’t really mean it when he threatens to destroy the people of Israel and to create a new people from Moses.
In this scenario, God would be testing Moses to see if he would be tempted to replace Abraham as the father of a great nation. As tempting as that might sound, it would mean sacrificing the lives of those in the existing nation of Israel.
Moses resists that temptation, in favor of saving their lives. Consequently, Moses pleads on their behalf. In doing that, Moses proves his worthiness to serve as God’s representative to Israel.
He is not seeking glory for himself but, rather, the good of the people.