Remove Your Sandals
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush,“Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Let me begin with the quote from the first reading from the Book of Exodus: ďGod called to Moses out of the bush. ďMoses, Moses. Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy.Ē
Two short stories. I knew once a devout man who had a wife and two young children. He once told me he was quitting his job because he felt that in good conscience, he could not continue in a work that potentially involved the destruction of human lives. He felt his job has become an obstacle to his union with Christ. I also have a friend who became a monk. He was in the world of finance before he entered the monastery. After seven years, he ended up leaving. Because he worked in the field of finance, his superiors made him the treasurer and bookkeeper of the community, but he felt that God was calling him to do something else- to work with the poor. He felt that however noble it was to be a monk, his life there became a hindrance to his spiritual growth. In these two instances, both these men shed off things in their lives that they believe hinder the ascent of their souls towards a closer union with God.
The first reading today is about Mosesí encounter with God through a burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai. God told him that if wanted to have a closer union with him, Moses must ascend the mountain where God will reveal himself to Moses. Five years ago, when I was living in Palestine, it was my plan to go to the Sinai Desert in Egypt in order to ascend Mount Sinai. But I didnít make it there. One day, I hope. At the foot of the mountain is the Monastery of Saint Catherine built about fifteen hundred years ago at the spot where Moses allegedly saw the burning bush. In the church of the monastery, there is a grand mosaic depicting the Transfiguration of Christ, flanked on both sides by two smaller mosaics. On the left is a mosaic depicting Moses removing his sandals as he prepares to ascend Mount Sinai. About seventeen years ago, the great 4th century Church Father, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, wrote a book, Vita Moysi (The Life of Moses), a commentary on the story of Moses. For Gregory, Moses was a symbol of the soulís ascent to God. Each one of us is like Moses. God calls to each one of us and that is why we are here in church, because we have somehow heard Godís voice speaking to each one of us in the particularity of our lives. Just as when Moses heard Godís invitation to ascend Mount Sinai, God invites us to ascend to a greater spiritual height in order to have a deeper union with him.
When it came to the story where Moses was commanded by God to remove his sandals, Gregory said that the sandals made of skin of a dead animal symbolically represented the spiritual deadly things we find in our minds, hearts and souls that hinder us from a closer union with God. We must shed off these things that lead us to our spiritual death in order for us to come to a new life and union with God. Gregory also said that these sandals represented those things that holds us back from ascending to God. A few years ago, when I joined a mission trip, we had to ascend a mountain on foot for eight hours, and it was raining. I was wearing sandals, but because the roads were muddied, my sandals kept slipping off my feet and the sandals prevented me from ascending at a greater speed. We, too wear spiritual sandals that hinder us from a speedy ascent to God because they drag us down to filth. Perhaps, we wear the sandals of gossip, the sandals of meanness, the sandals of dishonesty, the sandals of greed.
We need to ask ourselves: What are those spiritual sandals we must shed because they hinder us from a speedier ascent to God?
©2017 Noel E. Bordador
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