Take off your sandals, Moses

Publish date 11-12-2022

by Chiara Dal Corso

“While Moses was herding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, a priest of Midian, he led the cattle across the desert and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. He looked and behold: the bush was burning for the fire, but that bush was not consumed. Moses thought: "I want to get closer to observe this great show: why doesn't the bush burn?". The Lord saw that he had approached to look; God cried to him from the bush, "Moses, Moses!" He replied: "Here I am!". He resumed: "Do not come any closer! Take off your sandals, because the place where you are standing is holy ground!". And he said: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob" »(Ex 3:1-6).
This wonderful 12th-century icon from the monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai represents precisely this fundamental encounter.

In fact, this is how Moses' vocation and the second part of his life began. At this moment he is not yet old, but he already has a family and for years he has lived withdrawn in the desert, like a poor shepherd. He who had been saved as an infant from the waters by the Pharaoh's daughter, and then raised and educated in the palace of the Pharaoh of Egypt; he who, once he grew up, realized that his Jewish compatriots were mistreated by the Egyptian people and forced into forced labour. One day to defend one of him in a fight he had killed an Egyptian soldier and, as soon as the thing became known, he decided to escape to the desert of Midian, where he remained for several years. And right there, in the humility and hiddenness of the desert, while he grazes the flock, when he no longer seems to aspire to anything more for himself, he meets God.

The Lord, who presents himself to him as a fire that does not burn, speaks to him, calls him by name, and gives him a mission. But before introducing himself, the Lord gives this indication to Moses: "Do not come near and take off the sandals from your feet". Take off your sandals Moses because you're standing on holy ground. Take off your sandals, because what you see is a manifestation of God. Take off your sandals, because whoever is speaking to you is God himself, the God of your father, the God of the patriarchs, the God who will save your people and wants to do it together with you. Take off your sandals, stand barefoot, stripped, defenseless before God, because He who is the Immense, the Creator, the God who made heaven and earth stooped down to you, took a form to make Himself visible to you, speaks to you in a voice you can understand. And you recognize his presence, he reciprocates with a small gesture, a gesture that is both profound respect and also extreme confidence, intimate closeness, a mysterious and sacred encounter which, however immense and not fully understandable, is nonetheless familiar , as if that Voice were already in our heart, the Voice that is dearest, most intimate, closest to us than all the others.

So much so that, as the icon shows, Moses takes off his sandals in front of the bush, he understands that there is God's presence, and then he converses with him, as he always will. Further on in Exodus it is said that: "The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend" (Ex 33:11).

Here he is depicted with the clothes and stole like the apostles have, to indicate that he is a "sent of God" because he accepts his mission, and together with Aaron he will accomplish everything that God asks him to do he will do extraordinary wonders and lead the people out of Egypt. Yet it is said of him that he was "a very humble man, more humble than any other on the face of the earth" (Num 12:3); as if that gesture, "taking off your sandals" before God, being completely barefoot, abandoned, that is, docile because full of trust in Him, has become the key to your friendship with Him, your constant inner attitude towards God. That's why among many moments in Moses' life this one was chosen to represent him in an icon, as a true synthesis of the encounter with God, who is mystery, amazement, respect, and at the same time trust, intimacy, listening, love.

Chiara Dal Corso
NP August / September 2022

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