FROM A READING FOR MARCH 7, THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

'If you think you are standing firm you had better be careful that you do not fall...' I Corinthians 10:12

How many people know your Social Security number? To whom have you given a list of your computer passwords? Probably few or none: We understand the risk if this particular number or these special words become public property.

Yet in today's first reading (Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15), Yahweh takes that risk. God freely hands the information over to God's people.

"Moses said to God,...When I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them? God replied, 'I am who am.' Then he added, 'This is what you shall tell the Israelites: "I AM sent me to you."

"'Then you shall say to the Israelites, "Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob has sent me to you." This [Yahweh] is my name forever; thus shall I be remembered for all generations.'"

Those who wrote, saved and passed on the Hebrew Scrip-tures believed a person's name not only stands for that person, but those who know and use that name have power over that person.

Erasing Yahweh
Our God's name isn't God or Lord; it's Yahweh - the divine name our sacred authors use. They even employ its abbreviated forms, Ja, J0, and Je. We're all familiar, for instance, with "Hallelujah" (praise Yahweh); Joshua (Yahweh saves), the name Joseph and Mary gave their son; or the prophet Jeremiah (Yahweh exalts).

How come so many of us know little about God's proper name? A few centuries before Jesus' birth, some overly pious Jews not only stopped using it, they went through Scripture and changed the name Yahweh to the title "Adonai" (Almighty or All-Powerful One), translated "Kyrios" in Greek, "Dominus" in Latin and "Lord" in English.

These individuals were worried that using God's name gave them power over God. That's the significance of today's Exodus passage: Yahweh loves us so much that He/She is willing to take that risk, as we do when we share the deepest dimensions of our personalities with those we love.

We've all suffered when someone uses something against us that we once lovingly shared with them. That's why our Second Commandment reads, "You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh, your God."

Patient God
Yahweh couldn't form an authentic relationship with us without sharing His/Her name. Yet, as Paul reminds his Corinthian community (I Cor 10:1-6,10-12), not all Yahweh's followers have lived up to the trust God placed in them.

"[Bad] things happened to them as an example," the Apostle writes. "They have been written down as a warning to us."

Fortunately, Jesus, in today's Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), describes a God who, instead of cutting down the unproductive tree, is willing to "cultivate the ground and fertilize it [so that] it might bear fruit." God often has deeper faith in us than we have in ourselves.

Shortly before her 1979 death, my mother mentioned that one of the most significant things she learned in studying Scripture was what I wrote above about Yahweh's name.

"Now, when I pray," she said, "I pray to Yahweh, not just to God or the Lord. It's made a huge difference in how I think about God. Yahweh's a real person for me, not just some powerful, impersonal force out somewhere in the universe."


(03/04/10)