When Israel has a headache, God has a headache.
That’s how Maureena Fritz (God’s Surprising Presence) elaborates on Jewish midrashic understanding of the burning bush. The lowly, ragged, dusty bush that doesn’t even have a name symbolizes Israel, and the all-enveloping fire symbolizes God’s presence. Moses saw God peering out at him from that burning bush, and he never forgot what he learned there: that God is irrevocably committed to be present with, involved with, in partnership with Israel, so much so that whatever happens to Israel happens to God.
Fritz compares the burning bush to a thornbush, whose needles point downward. Any bird that entered in could not get out without being lacerated by the needles. The bird’s fate is forever tied to that of the bush. What does that say about a God who has chosen to be with human beings—with no way to escape what they are going through?
This precious insight from the Jewish roots of Christianity is deepening my experience of Lent. As I look at Jesus’ face, surrounded by thorns, I know there is something better ahead, but it seems a long time in coming. I am disheartened by the frailty and loneliness of my father, the desperation of a single mother looking for a job, the “long success of sin” (G. M. Hopkins) in myself. I am also filled with awe that our God has chosen to be with us—for the long haul—and is aching with my father, the job-seeker, and me—with us and for us.
Rosemary Jermann is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC St. Louis. She is an adjunct faculty member at Saint Louis University and previously served as an editor for and contributor to Theology Digest and Review for Religious.