Summary: God provides many chances to repent from our transgressions, but at some point, even though it will break his heart, God will allow us to drift away from him if we choose.
Additional Scripture Reference: Exodus 3:1-15
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
Last week’s Old Testament reading discussed God’s covenant with Abraham. In Chapter 15 of the Book of Genesis, verses 13 and 14 offer a promise to Abraham’s descendents. It says,
Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions…”
Abraham lived a long life; and his son Isaac did also. Isaac had a son named Jacob, whose son Joseph ended up becoming the number-two man in all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. Joseph saved the Egyptians from starving during a seven-year famine. Pharaoh rewarded Joseph and his father and brothers with lavish gifts and some prime real estate in Egypt.
After Joseph died, and a few more generations of Israelites grew in Egypt, the Egyptians got concerned about their country and the new pharaoh decided the best option to ensure Egyptian power was to enslave the Jews.
Obviously, Abraham didn’t call this one on his own. And Jewish oral tradition passed the events of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph on from generation to generation very accurately. Remember, God told Abraham that the Jews would be enslaved and mistreated for 400 years in a country that wasn’t their own.
If we fast-forward 400 years from the beginning of the Israelites slavery in Egypt, we find Moses sitting on a rock watching his father-in-law’s sheep. Our reading today doesn’t mention it, but few chapters later we learn that Moses was 80 years old when he went to tell Pharaoh to free the Israelites.
An 80-year-old shepherd is generally not looking for a career change. Especially when we realize that the reason Moses has been tending sheep for the past 40 years is because he’s on the lam from the Egyptian authorities for murdering an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave.
God decides that the best person to demand that the ruler of Egypt release all the Hebrew slaves is an elderly fugitive with a speech impediment.
Ten plagues later, all the Israelites are freed and given great possessions like gold, silver, and jewels from their former masters in Egypt just as God promised in his message to Abraham.
Today’s Old Testament reading shows that God chose Moses to be the means by which God would keep the promises he made centuries before. Moses had many chances in his life to obey God. At 80 years of age, how many chances do you think he still had left? God revealed himself to Moses, but Moses still had to open his heart and accept God’s mission for him. Even a sinner like Moses was loved by God so much that God would use him to save others.
Sin is a transgression. When we sin against God, we’re choosing to do our will instead of his. When we transgress others in positions of authority, how do they react?
“Officer, I was driving 90 miles an hour because your speed limits are just old rules that don’t apply in these modern times…” See how far that will get you next time you’re pulled over by the highway patrol.
Or see how long you’ll last at your job doing what you want to do instead of what your boss wants you to do. At least in these examples you’ll only get a ticket or lose your job. Transgressions against authority back in the first century came with a much heavier price.
The first part of our Gospel today mentions Pilate mixing the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices. What happened was that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the region, decided to build an aqueduct to bring water into the area. He also decided to take the money from the Jewish temple to pay for it. Not surprisingly, the Jews were unhappy about that and a large crowd of them gathered in protest.
Pilate ordered his soldiers to dress like the civilian mob and mingle into it. The soldiers carried concealed daggers with them. The first-century writer Josephus describes the crowd as at least 10,000 people. On Pilate’s signal, the soldiers slaughtered a large number of unarmed Israelites in the crowd.
Josef Stalin murdered about 43 million of his own people. Overall, in the past 100 years, governments have killed about 119 million of their own people. Human rulers don’t seem to respond to transgression very hospitably.
But how does God respond to our transgressions? We do some pretty vile things and God still lets us live. He even tries to bring us closer to him. In fact, no matter what we’ve done, he’s willing to forgive us, if we’ll just repent and come back to him. And he keeps giving us another chance, and another, and another…