Brothers and Sisters:
One of the readings at Mass this week was from Numbers 20. In Numbers 20 Moses was told by the Lord to “speak” to the rock in the desert to bring forth water for Israel:
“Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” (Num. 20:8)
Let’s set the context for the event above- Israel had been wandering in the desert 40 years, by this time, with a well that “followed” them (1 Cor 10:4). Moses’ sister Miriam died and the water stopped. So once again the people of Israel started complaining to Moses about the usual things- “Why have you brought out here in the wilderness to die? We didn’t have it so bad back in Egypt!” Etc etc etc… Some things never change.
So the Lord commands Moses to produce water for the people by “speaking” to the rock that had previously both miraculously followed them and also flowed with water in the desert. This is actually the second time the Lord asked Moses to produce water from a rock; Forty years earlier, as described in Exodus, the Lord instructed Moses to “strike” the rock to produce water:
“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Exodus 17:6)
Back in Exodus 17, Moses actually obeyed God by “striking” the rock, (symbolic of Jesus being “struck” for our sins and producing living water). But the second time Moses was told to produce water forty years later, he disobeyed God by “striking” the rock instead of ‘speaking” to it. You may be saying to yourself, OK, striking… speaking… what’s your point?
The point is this; The Lord’s desire was to show His great love and graciousness to Israel, even though it seemed they were never happy or grateful for all that He had done for them. I think Moses, like many of us, wanted justice for God. He wanted the people to know their complaining didn’t deserve the goodness of God. So, what does Moses say and do in response to the Lord asking him to merely “Speak” to the rock and produce water?
And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." (Numbers 20:10-12, RSV-CE)
Because Moses did not represent God as gracious and merciful, but instead as an angry and as a reluctantly generous God, he was kept from entering the promised land. I have to say, after forty years of hearing the constant complaining of Israel, I might have done the same thing as Moses!
There are several things that spoke to me as I pondered the previous events. First, we have a generous and merciful Father in heaven. None of us deserve the goodness he pours forth upon us and upon a world that doesn’t “deserve” that goodness. The world deserves punishment and justice, but instead the Father sent His only Son to die for our sins! Shall we be like Moses and preach God’s wrath upon all those that do not believe, or is our mission to preach the goodness of God and represent the Lord in a way that brings living water to them by introducing them to Jesus through the way we live and love?
Second, Moses fell into the trap, that I know I do from time to time when faced with a challenge: Do what worked before! Hey, striking the rock produced water back then, striking it twice will surely produce the result now! In other words, relying on past successes to respond to today’s challenges. Brothers and sisters, the world was a very different place forty years ago. We were all different forty years ago. The Spirit of the Lord was moving in a different way forty years ago. Looking back in time and trying to recreate something that” worked” back then, is not the response God wants. Moses found out the hard way!
Finally, Moses shouted to the people: "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" Hey, wait a minute- I thought it was the Lord producing the water? Moses was kind of taking credit for what was about to happen. Our life together in City of the Lord is a miracle in this day and age. We are approaching fifty years as a community. The Lord has done great things for us and through us in that time. We need to live in that remembrance with gratitude and awe. While each of us that have remained committed to our call deserve a measure of credit for continuing to say yes and remaining faithful, it is only by the Grace of God that we are still together. Our attitude about our life together needs to remain rooted in humility and sacrifice, as Paul exhorts:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, RSV-CE)
In closing, I wrote last time about Cardinal Cantalamessa’s Pentecost exhortation to become children again in the Spirit. Not to become “experts”, so that the Holy Spirit can do a new work in us. Claire Harvey also had a profound word a few years ago for us that ”We have arrived at the beginning”. Frankly, neither one of these exhortations makes me jump for joy! If I am honest, I want to accomplish something and “arrive” somewhere. The journey gets tiring! Being an expert is a good thing right? Don’t we all want to have something to show the Lord and say to Him, ”See Lord what we did for you?” But that isn’t the way we are called to build the Kingdom. Sure, all of us want to accomplish “works” for the Lord. He wants us to bear fruit with the gifts and talents we are entrusted with ( Matt 25:14) but not by longing for the way things used to be, or moving in our own strength, or looking for “credit”. The Lord is providing us fresh grace for a new day. The last 18 months have been a challenge. The future will be a challenge. Expect it. The Lord will not make the Journey easier but He will give us the grace to travel the journey with Him well, as we let go of our need to be right, as we live in gratitude and let go of our need to know the destination before we say yes to the journey.
Building the Kingdom is an adventure- hang on tight to each other as we experience the unfolding plan of God, together!!
Blessings, JeffBACK TO LIST