I AMMankind’s most serious sin is taking the Lord’s name in vain; not so much the GD and JC stuff, but the big I AM. We don’t often appreciate the importance of what saying I AM means. Moses did. Our first reading this Sunday is about his experience with the burning bush. He saw this shrub on fire but not being consumed. Moses, being a Godly man, suspected something Godly going on and went closer to inspect. Then he heard:

“Moses! Moses!”

Moses answered, “Here I am.”

This is a popular response to God’s call in the Old Testament among some of God’s greatest servants. Isaiah and Samuel also respond that way under similarly pivotal circumstances. In this reading from Exodus (Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15) God himself claims ownership of and identity with those words. He tells Moses he intends to rescue the Israelites through him and instructs him in claiming authority when instructing them:

“This is what you shall tell the Israelites: ‘I AM sent me to you.’ This is my name forever; thus am I to be remembered through all generations.”

But the Israelites used the Lord’s name in vain throughout their trials in the desert despite Moses’ leadership. “I AM hungry. I AM thirsty. I AM tired. I AM sick and tired. I AM out of faith in you and God! Their stiff-necked ways went down in history, surviving the centuries so that even St. Paul knew of them and used their belligerence as an example to instruct the Corinthians in staying faithful to the great I AM, as we see in our second reading (1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12).

All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer.

In our gospel reading (Lk 13:1-9), God’s son, who said “I AM the way, the truth and the light,” tells us a story illustrating why taking I AM’s name in vain is such a mortal offense. In short, it works against humanity’s mission to be fruitful.

“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

Jesus is the gardener and I AM his tree. If I don’t do something with the second chance he gave us, my claim of being related to Him will be in vain. By adding “Here” to “I AM,” we can join Moses, Isaiah and Samuel in volunteering for fruitful service in God’s name.