On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after."
When Moses had told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses: "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
The disciples came to Jesus and asked him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" He answered, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
'You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn
- and I would heal them.'
"But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."
The Biblical stories often identify contrasting moments in our lives. Sometimes, as in Exodus we are fired with dreams and visions. But later these early ideals become memories to inspire us anew and correct our meandering ways. Sometimes in the gospel God speaks to us plainly, at other times in riddles. Throughout it all we must be reflective and generous in order to gain the fruit.
The earthshaking theophany of Mount Sinai dominates Exodus 19 and looms over the rest of the Old Testament narrative. In a sense Israel's history follows a path away from Mount Sinai yet always with its majestic peak in sight, always, that is, until Jerusalem takes the place of Sinai. So much did Mount Sinai dominate in their minds as they celebrated their liturgies and feastdays in the Promised Land, that many details of these later ceremonials were read back into the story of Exodus. Something very similar happened in the New Testament, when later eucharistic ceremonies were folded into the gospel accounts of Jesus' multiplying loaves and fishes or of Jesus' last supper with his disciples.
The Sinai revelation is no mere human invention, for this key moment was the bedrock of Israelite belief that God really intervened in their history. No matter how ordinary the mixed crowd of Moses' followers, heaven reached down to earth in such a way that thereafter the history of Israel was different from all other peoples. Each of us has our moments of revelation. Like later biblical tradition we need to link the details of our later life into those earlier moment of exceptional grace and significance. Jeremiah helps us to keep alive our initial ideal, when in God's name he says: "I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, Following me in the desert, in a land not sown. Sacred to the Lord was Israel, the first fruits of his harvest."
We turn to Jesus to revive our best memories and finest inspirations from our youthful past. If we remember the fundamental call, our first inspiration, our first enthusiasm for life, then God's grace can develop within us. In such a context we can re-read the puzzling words of Jesus: "To the one who has, more will be given until that one grows rich; the one who has not, will lose what little he or she has."