The unique place occupied by Moses in the heart of the Eternal One is reflected in the way he is venerated in the whole Jewish tradition: the book of Deuteronomy assures us that the long-awaited Messiah will be like a new Moses (18, 15: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet"). In the New Testament, too, Moses occupies an important place, so much so that he is mentioned a full eighty times! Paul, in particular, says (in 1Cor 10, 1ff.) that our fathers were all under the cloud, crossed the sea and were baptized in Moses ("eis tòn Mousèn"), clearly finding in him a symbol of the Messiah who will come.
Gregory of Nyssa draws on this wealth of imagery in his very beautiful Life of Moses, where the Patriarch is portrayed as a model of virtuous perfection, and an excellent example for all of us in the journey we have to undertake in order to be pleasing to God. According to Gregory, Moses on the holy mountain experienced the "bright darkness" of a mystical experience of the divine (II, 163), because he was "on fire with love of beauty" (II, 231), and never ceased to walk forward towards the vision of God: "To see God means to experience a desire for Him which is never satisfied... our thirst for what is good increases despite being slaked" (II, 239). Precisely because he always went on growing in this way, Moses was a "model of beauty", teaching us to bear witness like him to "the seal of the beauty which has been shown us" (II, 319).
In the Bible are narrated some great events which make of Moses the forerunner of the Messiah and of every religious leader in God's people. The first of these events is his experience of the "burning bush" (Acts 7, 30-31; Ex 3, 1-15; cf. Ex 6, 2-13 and 6, 28 - 7,7). We need here above all to underline Moses' amazement: he is tending his flock near Mount Sinai and suddenly sees a bush which burns without being consumed. "He approached to look...": this is important, because it tells us that Moses, even though he has been through so much, is still capable of experiencing wonder, of being open to what is new! In this sense is a radically human person, in search of the Mystery: where there is awe, there is this openness to the new things God does, to His impossible possibility! Only where awe does not exist, there is no more life, no more surprise. A religious leader like Moses must never give up being a pilgrim, a searcher; even though he has settled down in exile, his heart must still go on secretly yearning for home.
At this point God's call comes: "Moses! Moses!". God calls us by name. None of us is anonymous for Him: each of us is a "you" - absolutely unique, singular, loved infinitely. Moses experiences himself as loved personally by God. This is no experience of wanting to take hold of God for oneself: on the contrary, the admonition is clear, "...Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet..." (Ex 3,4-6). It is instead a matter of letting yourself be taken hold of by God, because it is only God who can make the desert into holy land! "I will send you". It is no longer Moses who is the prime mover, who makes the decisions and claims to be able to change the world: it is God who sends him. "Go to Pharaoh". As if nothing had gone before, as if he had never experienced failure, Moses accepts this new beginning. God makes possible the impossible: His name is a promise, "I am who I am", "I will be with you", the faithful God (Ex 3,14). Moses had not asked for a definition of God's essence: he had asked God to commit Himself for him and his people. The holy and blessed Name is thus a guarantee, founded in the reality of God's fidelity, and on such a foundation Moses can begin his adventure. No religious leadership is true without God's call!
In response to God's call, Moses experiences the test of his faith, the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 14, 5-15, 20; cf. 1Cor 10, 1-2; Heb 11, 29). On the one side there is the sea with its high waves, on the other Pharaoh with his chariots and horsemen. In such circumstances, human logic would counsel calculation, the choice of compromise. Moses is afraid: humanly speaking, the alternative is between death in the sea and submission to Pharaoh (cf. Ex 14, 10-14). The choice is imposed: either to trust God or to calculate by human logic. Moses has no hesitation in involving the people, to encourage them: "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance the Lord will accomplish for you today" (v.13). Yet he remains alone before God, bearing an enormous burden, because to trust God now may look like failing to take proper action. In his loneliness he cries out to his God, so much so that the Most High asks him: "Why do you cry out to me?" (v.15). And yet he goes on bearing witness to the people that he trusts the fidelity of the Eternal One: "The Lord will fight for you" (v.14). Moses is now a true leader, because he realizes that what he can allow himself to be and to say in direct interaction with God, he must temper with the wisdom of love when he speaks to his people: we must never unload our own crosses onto the shoulders of those who are weaker! And Moses understands that there is another possibility: to believe in God in spite of everything, in spite of God's apparent defeat. This is the lifestyle of a true religious leader!
So Moses reaches the most important moment of his life: he trusts God, he believes against all the evidence to the contrary. Making in darkness his leap of faith, he obeys the Lord who says: "Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground" (v. 15f.). Now the waters of the sea roll back, the people pass through them unharmed, and the Egyptians who are pursuing them are overwhelmed. The symbolism employed here is tragic and very hard: the waters of life for the Hebrews are the waters of death for the Egyptians. Moses, leader in the faith which passes through the sea, is saved from the waters together with his people. It is then that he experiences faith's victory: in the night, trusting blindly, seeing nothing, he witnesses the royal Passover, and from his heart there erupts his song of gratitude, the song of the saved (cf. Ex 15).
From then on Moses will always be what he was on that night at the Red Sea: the man of intercession and responsibility (cf. Ex 17), the man of the Word (cf. Ex 19, 3), who suffers out of love for his people and out of love for his God, in a continual, hope-filled exodus towards the land of God's promise. So, here are the characteristics of a true religious leader, which also apply in secular society: called by God, he must respond with total faith, loving his people and listening to Him and saying always the words of God to all, without fear. A free and courageous person, whose authority comes from listening to all, ready to dialogue, and from obeying God only, always and unconditionally.