Summary: Do we listen to the voice of God in our hearts telling us what we must do in order to free up His grace?
Tuesday of the 5th Week of Lent 2020
You Still Don’t Get It
When I was growing up and first encountering the Bible stories, the years after the departure from Egypt were characterized as “forty years they wandered in the desert.” So I pictured the Hebrew people churning around the Sinai peninsula and maybe part of Arabia with no physical direction. But the hidden meaning of those words is certainly clear to anyone who has studied the Old Testament thoroughly. The word “wandering” means ignoring God’s clear commands and trying to do things their own way. Here they are complaining to Moses that they are tired of the FREE FOOD that God gives them every day. In fact, they are calling it “worthless food,” which is most certainly an oxymoron.
Certainly, too, was the cycle of sin, catastrophe, repentance, healing that we see here. The Israelites would worship a false god, or complain about the true god, or rebel against Moses, or diss the land of promise. Then there would be a defeat, or a plague, or in this case a repetition of the rebellions of nature that the Egyptians had experienced, but now one aimed at the faithless Hebrews. Slapped upside the head, the leaders would come crawling back to Moses in repentance, and the Lord would hear their pleas and moans and reverse the trouble. Then it would start all over again.
In fact, we see in the Book of Kings that the healing seraph serpent of bronze was taken with the Israelites into the Promised Land. And instead of it being made over into another use, or put in what we would call a “museum of remembrance,” the fools turned it into an idol and worshiped it as a god. One of the good kings of Judah eventually destroyed it, and I would bet there was a demonstration against him when he did.
By the time of Jesus, you would think they would have learned their lesson and walked firm in God’s way. Well, in a sense they did. Over the generations, the scribes and Pharisees built up what has been called a “wall around the commandments” with hundreds of picky little ordinances that were supposed to keep people from disobeying the great commandments. All that did is establish a class system where the ones in the know had all the power, and looked down contemptuously on anyone who wasn’t as “holy” as they were. When Jesus came, reminding everyone that the real way to holiness is to love God above all things and to do to their neighbor what they would have done to them, they plotted to kill Him.
Here Jesus is throwing down some final challenges to these pious prigs, and they don’t get it any better than their ancestors had in the desert. When Jesus warns that if they keep it up, they will die in sin, they accuse Jesus of the sin of wishing His own death, or suicide. When they ask “who are you?” He reminds them that He did nothing, said nothing that He had not gotten from God, His Father. And, over and over again, they just didn’t “get it.”
The challenge to us in the 21st century is very much like the one in the first. Jesus stands apart from the world, the secular society, with all its vices of injustice, and witnesses against them. He invites us to stand with Him and tell our companions that they are on the wrong path, seeking lesser goods than the One Good, union with the Father. He invites us to tell our selves the same truth.
We pray intently with the psalmist, “Hear my prayer, O Lord.” But do we listen to the voice of God in our hearts telling us what we must do in order to free up His grace? Do we give God a shopping list of bad things that need to be made good, and then complain that He delivers items we have not asked for, and that He withholds good items that we request. No, it is true that the only prayer we need to make to God is that His will be done, because He wants only good for us and those we love. He will not hear a prayer for bread and give us a scorpion, and if we somehow end up with a scorpion, even if we are bitten, God will bring great good from the sting.