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Cross-Examining God

November 4, 2019

But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ And God said, ‘I will be with you.’” (Exodus 3: 11-12)

One of the ways that lawyers get to the truth in a legal dispute is by examining witnesses under oath either in a deposition or at trial.  In the Scripture texts for Sunday, we observe two different questioning styles. In both cases, the person being questioned is God.[1]  But the subtext for each is quite different.  In the Old Testament reading, we see Moses trying to understand how he could accomplish what God was asking him to do.  In the New Testament reading, the Sadducees were trying to discredit Jesus, the second person of the Godhead.

In the first instance, it is Moses who is questioning God.  Moses comes from a place of humility.  He sees a burning bush, and when goes to investigate he encounters God.  God calls out to him, and he answers.  God commanded him, an 80-year old fugitive from justice, to go back to Egypt to ask Pharaoh to set two million Jewish slaves free![2]  He doesn’t believe that he is up to the task.  He doesn’t believe that he will be able to do what God wants him to do.   He thought it was an impossible task.  If he wasn’t immediately thrown in jail, why would Pharaoh even listen to him?  In all humility, Moses asked God who he [Moses] was to do such a thing: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3: 11).  God answered him: I will be with you.”  By himself, Moses was inadequate.  But God assured him that he would be with him. That was a game changer for Moses and is a game changer for us.

Moses sought the truth and God’s assistance.  He wanted to understand why he was chosen, and how he could possibly carry out this seemingly impossible task.  He wasn’t trying to discredit God.  He was just trying to understand how it could happen.  God doesn’t make mistakes.  When he asks you to do something, he knows you can do it, even if you don’t know it.   He expects you to investigate, ask questions, and try to figure out how it can be accomplished. He expects and wants you to turn to him for guidance.  If you are pursuing a God-sent idea or task, he will be with you as he was with Moses. And he will help you figure it out.  You can’t do the things God asks you to do by yourself. Ask him to help.

Moses had been raised by Egyptians and was familiar with the Egyptian gods.  He had not been schooled in the religion of the Israelites, and had a lot of questions. He wanted to know who he was talking to: “Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I am has sent me to you . . . This is my name forever, the name you shall call me, from generation to generation.’” (Exodus 3: 13-15).  The psalmist reminds us to praise the name of God: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted, his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (Psalm 148: 13).

But in the second examination scenario in Sunday’s gospel lesson, the Sadducees are trying to discredit Jesus.  Unlike Moses, they were not questioning him to get information about how to carry out the assignment or in the furtherance of justice. Unlike Moses, the Sadducees were coming from a place of arrogance.  The sole purpose of their examination was to trap Jesus so that they could maintain the status quo.

Jerusalem was the seat of power in the Middle East.  It was the Washington D.C of its day in terms of political power, but it was also the seat of religious power. The Sadducees and the Romans had the same goal—to maintain the status quo. They didn’t want a charismatic leader just in from Galilee (the Berkeley of its day) upsetting the status quo in Jerusalem.

For that reason, “They sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something that he said, so that they could turn him over to the power and authority of the governor,” (Luke 20: 20) and be done with him.

The Sadducees asked him a question about resurrection, which they didn’t even believe in!  They asked him who will be the husband of a woman who has married more than once, at the resurrection: “Now then, whose wife will she be, since the seven [men] were married to her?” (Luke 20: 33).

The Sadducees broke the most important rule of cross-examination:  Don’t ask a question that you don’t know the answer to.  They were trapped in their own web of deception.  They could care less about the truth.  But the truth is what they got. Jesus explained that relationships in heaven are different; therefore, the question wasn’t relevant: “Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Luke 20: 34-35).  Their only goal was to entrap Jesus, but they didn’t stand a chance.

When God chooses you for a task, he will not leave you on your own. He will never abandon you.  He welcomes your genuine questions and wants you to seek him out for assistance and guidance.  But God help the person who scoffs at God and tries to entrap him.  Like the Sadducees, he or she will learn that you cannot win a round of cross-examination with the Almighty.

Prayer:  Father, like Moses, at times we feel woefully inadequate to accomplish the tasks you set before us.  Open our eyes to new opportunities for ministry.  Give us the courage and strength to walk through the doors that you open.  Give us the energy, the abilities, the partners, and other resources we need.  Help us stay on the path you have cleared for us.  Lift us up when we get tired and discouraged.  Renew, refresh, recharge, and restore us so that we can continue your work.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for Sunday are Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 148; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, 13-17; Luke 20:27-40.

[2] Joseph’s 72 family members had grown to 2,000,000 people and were slaves for 400 years.

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