A few years ago, writing in his column for the Times, Thomas Friedman told this joke:
“There is this very pious Jew named Goldberg who always dreamed of winning the lottery. Every Sabbath, he’d go to synagogue and pray: “God, I have been such a pious Jew all my life. What would be so bad if I won the lottery?” But the lottery would come and Goldberg wouldn’t win. Week after week, Goldberg would pray to win the lottery, but the lottery would come and Goldberg wouldn’t win. Finally, one Sabbath, Goldberg wails to the heavens and says: “God, I have been so pious for so long, what do I have to do to win the lottery?” And the heavens parted and the voice of God came down: “Goldberg, give me a chance! Buy a ticket!”1
Of course, that’s just horrible theology and a terrible joke, but the voices we heard from Scripture today are saying the same thing, except back to God. “God, give me a chance! I want to meet you, I want to understand you, I want to somehow know you.”
While it seems pretty easy to know that there is a God, to know that there is a power so great as to create and sustain the powers we see all around us, it’s not always so easy to know God, to know Him as a Person, to know Him personally. Not that God hasn’t gone out of His way to make Himself known, to let us in, but for whatever reason, be it our sinful nature or the accidents of creation, we end up having to meet God in some very unusual circumstances.
We heard the story of Moses, who’s people knew God well enough, but who didn’t pay that much attention himself. God wanted to get Moses’ attention, appears to him in the form of a bush that was burning but not consumed, the first eternal flame. God got Moses’ attention and then essentially introduces Himself: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In introducing Himself in that way, God said to Moses, essentially “I am the God you always knew about, but who you will now know personally; now get ready for the ride of your life.”
The Apostle Paul talks about getting to know God through the Holy Spirit, who is eager to introduce the other Persons of the Trinity. Paul tells us that through our baptisms, the Spirit works to continually introduce us to the Father and to the Son, to make us know and feel that we are, by adoption, members of the family.
And then there’s the kicker from St. John, those comfortable words we here at every Mass preceded by a little lesson on the economy of salvation and Trinitarian theology. And as much as John 3:16 is certainly the most famous and beloved Bible verse ever, the kicker for today is John 3:13: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man,” that is, Jesus Himself.
Jesus said those words to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a devout Jew, who certainly knew more about God than most and most likely knew God pretty well, well enough to think that seeking out Jesus might be a good idea. Nicodemus probably didn’t know he was face to face with the Son of God, but Jesus didn’t let him off the hook. “You must be born again,” Jesus told him. You must be born in the Spirit, you must let the Holy Spirit make you new, new like you were just born. And by the way, Jesus seemed to be saying, I know God personally, I was sent from God, I am God.
You might hear these stories of people like Nicodemus and Moses getting to meet God face to face or getting to speak to God and then get to hear Him answer back and say “God, give me a chance! I want to meet you, I want to understand you, I want to somehow know you.” None of us might ever get the chance, while we are still here in the flesh, to talk to God like Nicodemus or Moses, but we do get to hear His voice, we do get to know Him, no less than Nicodemus, no less than Moses. We get to hear His voice in Scripture, we get to talk back to Him in the Mass and in our private prayers, we get to sing to Him the same songs the angels sing, we get the Holy Spirit welling up inside of us, and best of all, we get to know Jesus in His Body and Blood. All of this, and all you have to do is say “God, give me a chance!”
1Thomas L. Friedman, ‘Obama on Obama,’ The New York Times, June 3, 2009, p. A23.