Father Donald Senior, CP

March 20: Third Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Reverencing God’s name

Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 11; 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12; Lk 13:1-9

For several years, I had the privilege of serving on the Pontifical Biblical Commission, formed of 20 biblical scholars from around the world who serve as a consultative body for the pope on matters pertaining to biblical interpretation. 

One of the most memorable requests for the commission’s input came from Pope Benedict XVI after a meeting he had with the chief rabbi of Rome, with whom he had a very cordial relationship. At this particular meeting, the rabbi mentioned to Pope Benedict his concern that a number of the modern hymns popular among Catholics in Italy frequently used the proper Hebrew name of God, “Yahweh.” 

Out of respect for this concern, the pope asked the commission to research whether in the New Testament and in early Christianity the name of God was ever used. In fact, as the commission’s study revealed, the unique name of God, Yahweh, was never used. 

Instead, early Christianity followed Jewish practice of using an alternate term, “Kurios,” translated as “Lord” in English. Until this day, out of reverence, whoever reads the Scriptures in the synagogue does not enunciate the word Yahweh when it appears in the bible but uses the Hebrew term “Adonai,” which is rendered in Greek as “Kurios.”

I recall all this because of the reading from Exodus selected for this third Sunday of Lent. It is one of the most famous and fundamental scenes in the Bible. 

Here Moses, while tending a herd of goats in the desert, encounters the burning bush and comes face to face with the living God. It is the first of several awe-inspiring encounters that Moses will have with the God of Israel. 

Intrigued by the sight of a burning bush, Moses decides to take a closer look and his life would never be the same. The voice of God booms out, “Moses! Moses! Come no nearer! Remove your sandals from your feet for the place where you stand is holy ground.” 

God reveals himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,” the God who has always been with his people. 

Now catching on, Moses, out of reverence, hides his face and is afraid to even look at God. God speaks in a manner that will echo through the entire Bible: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt … so I know well their suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them … and lead them out of that land into a good and gracious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” 

Moses is charged to bring this message of liberation to his fellow Jews. But he wants to be sure of his credentials as God’s messenger: “If they ask me, ‘What is [God’s] name, what am I to tell them?” Here is the moment when God’s own name is revealed: “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM [Yahweh] sent me to you.”

This unique name in Hebrew has only four letters and, as our English translation suggests, appears to mean “I AM.” The suggested meaning of this mysterious name is revealed in God’s following words to Moses: “Thou shall say to the Israelites, The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob has sent me to you.” 

God, the awesome and transcendent God of the universe, is also the God of Moses’ ancestors and the God of the people who suffer and long for freedom. It is the unfathomable beauty of God’s enduring fidelity and love that is the ultimate reason for reverencing God.

Especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus himself, the embodiment of God’s love, will also evoke the divine name: “Do not be afraid,” he says to his disciples in the midst of the storm, “I AM.”

Lent is a time for us to renew our spiritual lives, to take a step back from our ordinary concerns and try to grasp the reality of God’s presence in our world. The readings for this Sunday invite us to retrieve a sense of reverence and awe before the mystery of God’s love for us.



  • scripture