DAY 52 – Numbers 1; Deuteronomy 1; Psalm 84
F. E. A. R.
Writer Devin Schadt in his book InterFEARence defines Fear as Feelings/Emotions Attacking Reason. When delving into this first chapter of Deuteronomy that was the thought that came to mind. The Israelites find themselves on the cusp of entering into the land that God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The dreams of their ancestors was about to be fulfilled. God had led them out of slavery, given them a law, had encamped and lived among them. Now was the moment for these hopes to be realized with them entering the long awaited homeland.
They immediately revert to fearful thoughts – uh, maybe we better check the place out first? Incredibly, Moses goes along with it “it seemed good to me” and as soon as they saw the land – it is a good land – but they focus on the great and tall people, the great and fortified cities and conclude “the Lord hated us he has brought us forth out of the land of Egypt to gives us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.”
Feelings Emotions Attacking Reason.
The problem was they immediately fed into their doubts. Rather than trusting in the Lord in spite of their legitimate human fears – they had normal anxieties. But they fed those. Rather than prayerfully recalling all that God had done and was telling them to do, they immediately resorted to the natural human tendencies to imagine the worst of scenarios. That breeds not just lack of faith but outright lies and blasphemies “the Lord hated us…”
It’s normal for us to have fears. It’s human to want to peer ahead and check out the odds of succeeding at an assignment. And when things are in our own stead, under our responsibility and vision and control – allowing those to guide our decision making and recalculating and so forth is frustrating at times but understandable.
But this is God’s plan, His vision. And what is learned – until their Faith becomes bigger than their Fear – the people of God can’t enter the promised land. And thousands of years later, that still remains true.
DAY 53: Numbers 2; Deuteronomy 2; Psalm 85
THE SCENIC ROUTE
It took a few times and checking out a couple of my resources to catch something: chapter 2 talks about how it was 38 years for them to get to the promised land. Had they listened to the Word of the Lord; had they not given into their fears – given into their doubts – it would’ve taken 11 days.
It was hard for me to shake that (I have three bibles open right now, triple checking that). Just think about that – the stubbornness, arrogance, lack of faith takes God’s people on a scenic route (literally walking in circles) for 38 years. How maddening. It’s beyond frustrating sitting here reading that from the comfort of my couch typing on my laptop millennia since this first happened.
Since it first happened. I for one would rather ponder at the stupidity of our ancestors than recognizing how often I repeat the same mistakes. How often does God give me guidance, clarity, direction that – for whatever reason – I resist, dismiss that ends up with my having to “take the scenic route” as well?
The beautiful/more positive aspect of the story is, again God’s patience. Like a parent watching his stubborn children having to burn off their energy until they’re docile and prepared to listen – God gives His people the “time out” to get to a place where they’re finally ready to fulfill their destiny. And as He does, He’s still protecting them and guiding them – yes you can go there/no don’t go there – as they wander until He gives the call again “You’ve have been going about this …long enough.” Then they are ready and more than willing to make the move.
Its frustrating to read. Its frustrating to reflect on in our own lives. But as we’ve said previously – don’t get hung up on the past. God, the great I AM – meets and works with us in the present. He’s gotten over his anger and in His mercy immediately came up with a new plan. Wherever you find yourself today, in your faith journey, God is here to meet you, and work with you. Yeah it probably would’ve been better had we done that from the get-go. But He’ll take you here and now. Even if it took the scenic route to get here, it’s the final destination that matters.
DAY 54: Numbers 3; Deutereonomy 3; Psalm 87
WHO’S SIDE ARE YOU ON
In the midst of chapter 3, a line that really stands out: “You shall not fear them, It is the Lord your God who fights for you.(v 22) ” That’s a verse that could easily be a bumper sticker or a motivation poster. But reading that admist some of these chapters of warfare, counting of men being readied for war can be troubling. It’s hard not to get the impression that with God on their side, the Israelites have become a bunch of barbarians. And no doubt this gets more problematic when people look through the centuries when God and religion has been used as a justification for violence. Even with our following the 5 tips before reading the Bible about understanding context – the stories of capturing, destruction can understandably be upsetting to find in scripture.
It’s important to recognize that just because the Jews are God’s chosen people doesn’t give them a free pass to pillage any city, unleash violence, do whatever they want. In fact if we remember just in chapter 1, when the Hebrews were commanded to go into the land and they balked out of fear and then changed their mind and wanted to go forward with God’s initial command, the Lord had told them they were forbidden to – I am not in the midst of you… you will be defeated by your enemies.
It’s not a matter of God being on their side to justify whatever whims or wants the people want. It’s a matter of the people – and ultimately all humanity – coming to be on God’s side.
For Og, the King of Bashan – after he had seen and heard of the previous defeats at the hands of the Israelites, it would’ve been wise to have entered into peace negotiations. His arrogance and closed heartedness (and likely belief in false pagan gods) led to his defeat. For the Israelites, the Lord will not fight for them in acts of unrighteousness.
That’s an important distinction. And it’s one that remains even more important in our day and age. In 3,000 + years since these events, there’s a whole lot of scripture, tradition and experience that has occurred. Civilization continues to expand and change and develop. We’re not wandering as a band of weary, men and women in a physical wilderness waiting for instruction to arrive into a promised homeland. God has moved beyond those limitations. His expectations have moved on as well. Yes there still, unfortunately, are times where war remains necessary (as we remember, for example the atrocities of Hitler…) But the instances are diminished, and those who invoke God into their justifications need to be very cautious and careful – prayerfully asking – are they truly on God’s side or not?
DAY 55: Numbers 4; Deuteronomy 4; Psalm 89
A few weeks ago when we were in Exodus someone had asked the question about the use of the term Jealousy – and how something we’ve been taught is bad can be attributed to God. Which is a good thing to reflect on. The feelings of jealousy are not pleasant to experience – and are sinful when they are directed towards something that is not ours that we want to possess. In part this is a translation issue. In English the words Jealousy and Envy are used interchangeably. One Bible commentary explains how Envy as an evil strongly condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament distinguished from jealousy. ‘We are jealous of our own; we are envious of another man’s possessions. Jealousy fears to lose what it has; envy is pained at seeing another have.’”
Having just had this discussion a few weeks ago, getting to vs. 23 & 24 in Chapter 4 of Deuteronomy, hit me completely differently today. Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you and make a graven image in the form of anything which the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God.
God is jealous for us. How often do we let that reality truly resonate in our innermost being? Most of us struggle with feelings of unworthiness on a good day. We’re constantly bombarded with a society that defines our value by what we can do, how we perform. Some have had painful, hurtful experiences, lies sown into them that question their being lovable by mere human beings. The effect has so many looking for love, as the song goes – in all the wrong places. And as we do that, and come up empty… and the vicious cycle that sin is – that now that we’ve done that and fallen for some “idol” some false god – the shame, the guilt continues to re-enforce all those lies, all those wounds that made us fall into the temptation in the first place.
Yet maybe we can stop for a second. Pause and sit with this immensely passionate reality:
Feel that jealous love of God for you right here, right now.
Of the billions of people who walk this earth, who have walked this earth, who will walk this earth – there is only one you… And God is madly possessive of His creations. You are His creation. And He is jealous for you.
Don’t let Satan twist that and bring you into the shame cycle where you’ve missed that before. Here and now – receive that love… ask Him to teach you how to reciprocate it for Him.
DAY 56 Numbers 5 Deuteronomy 5; Psalm
JEALOUSY – PART II (The not good kind)
So the book of Numbers is not only a difficult read, it can most definitely be a bizarre one. Particularly this passage we have today. After hearing about the passionate, possessive, jealous love God has for us, his children – in this chapter of Numbers we hear of the jealous – potentially unfounded – feelings a husband has for his wife, and the accusation of adultery.
As bizarre as the “trial” was for the woman in this position – putting things in cultural and historical context reveals how protective this was for a woman. In Ancient Middle Eastern cultures, the accusation of adultery didn’t need much in terms of witnesses. The accusation itself could’ve meant the death penalty for the woman. But not for the Israelites. There was no trial by a jury of men, judgment by a man who could take matters into their own hands, the woman was made to stand before the Lord (Numbers 5: 16)
The “trial” consisted of a physical test rather than interrogations or testimonies. Which was a very ancient practice. For example – In Babylon a suspected adulteress would be thrown into a raging river. If she survived, (which was not likely) the Babylonians believed the gods had intervened to prove her innocence. If she perished, the gods had demonstrated she was guilty as charged. So it was very much a “guilty till proven innocent” scenario.
What makes this “physical test” so unique is that the “holy water” the accused would have to drink contained dust from the tabernacle floor. It was solely God’s judgment and activity that would determine the person’s guilt. If she was found “guilty” her life was not in danger. It meant a miscarriage or the inability to have children of her own. Which for ancient civilizations which put a premium on child birth as determining a woman’s “worth” would be considered a steep penalty. But for a wold dominated by male-authority, what makes this so unique is that the men had no say in determining the guilt or innocence – or leveling the punishments.
While it’s still disconcerting to read, for sure we’re once again forced to look deeper to see how God’s loving hand is still guiding and directing his people, he’s continuing to tame and train them – till eventually they recognize how often they have experienced and begin to understand His Mercy.
DAY 57 – Numbers 6; Deuteronomy 6; Psalm 91
A quick word on Numbers 6 – and the Nazirite vow – this will come up as we continue along and encounter Samson, Samuel and even John the Baptist. These were people who wanted to signify their separation from the world and singular devotion to God. While the ordinances and expectations might seem extreme and strange – there’s spiritual wisdom that still governs some of our spiritual practices. For example the scripture not only forbade drinking of wine or strong drink, but anything “from the vine.” This would be like our avoidance of an “occasion of sin.” The ordinances forbidding the cutting of ones hair would be to limit one’s vanity from distracting them from pursuing God alone.
If any of you have watched the TV series The Chosen – well, let me back up- if you haven’t watched The Chosen yet, that’s your homework this weekend. It is by far the best dramatic presentation of the life of Christ I’ve seen, presented in a multi-episode, multi-season Television series. If you’re not familiar with it, let me know – Season 1 is widely available for free since last Easter – and I think I’ve watched it over a dozen times since.
Anyway, tangent aside – for those who have seen The Chosen, it was probably hard for you not to read this chapter of Deuteronomy and remembering that scene with the children at Jesus’ request praying the Shema with Him. The portrayal with the look on the Son of God’s face as they prayed the most important prayer to them with tears in Jesus’ eyes came immediately to mind reading this chapter. (And spoiler alert – how they juxtapose it with Jesus teaching them the Our Father was so beautiful)
The Shema (vs. 4-9) in so many ways succinctly and beautifully captures the heart of the heart of faith for the Jew. It was the words that they started and ended their days with – the scripture they would mount on their doorpost. In some ways it would be like our making the sign of the cross. May we take some time to reflect on words that our ancestors in the faith, words that our Savior would treasure and pray daily:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
DAY 58 – Numbers 7; Deuteronomy 7; Psalm 92
WHEN IN FEAR – REMEMBER
Chapter 7 of Deuteronomy we have God speaking through Moses addressing His people about what it means to be a “Chosen People.” He’s preparing them to enter the Promised Land. He knows he’s not going with them (and God told him not to bring that up again!) The whole book is kind of moving and you can sense a lot of different feelings and emotions as Moses is readying his fellow Jews. Just reading verses 6 -8 where Moses tells the people that God calls them “holy” “chosen” and not for any other reason than “because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers” should also resonate even more in our hearts as we experience the fullness of those oaths and promises in Jesus.
But verse 18 contains an important remedy, not just for the Chosen People at this point in their history – but a great reminder for us when confronted, when overwhelmed by fear. “You shall not be afraid…but you shall remember what the Lord God did…” For the Chosen people – it’s specific to their present journey. As they encounter enemies, people who don’t believe in God, who worship false gods, who occupy lands that don’t belong to them and will hold hardness in their hearts to the call of God to recognize these chosen people whom He has sent into these lands – God doesn’t want them to enter it like scared people, anxious and afraid. They are His people. His Chosen People. They have been saved before from mere human authorities who thought they were powerful and strong. They will be saved again.
The same remains true for us. Whatever it is you are facing right here and now, God says to you “You shall not be afraid… but you shall remember what the Lord God did.” So if you’ve lost a job, remember how the Lord God gifted you, blessed you with all kinds of abilities and talents that landed you a job before. If you’re facing a challenge in your health, remember how the Lord God brought you into existence in the first place, how intricate and complex every aspect of your body is – you are truly a miraculous marvel of His creation… Whatever it is you’re facing, when fear or anxieties rise, the key is to remember what the Lord God did – and continues to do <3
DAY 59 – Numbers 8; Deuteronomy 8 & 9; Psalm 93
WHEN NOT TO HAVE MERCY
One of our fellow travelers in this Bible in a Year journey articulated what I’m sure is a concern for a lot of people. How in Deuteronomy 7 the Lord God basically tells the Israelites not to have any mercy on the people who’s land they’ve been instructed to go into. It sounds so harsh, and so un-God like, particularly after receiving the 10 commandments which clearly say “thou shalt not kill.”
There’s a lot to that question – that as Fr. Mike had indicated in the podcast yesterday, we’re going to encounter and ponder a lot more as we navigate through a lot of these stories. Scholars are able to give some different insights to what is meant – when something is hyperbole, or exaggeration on the part of Israelite authors (which is indicated a few chapters or books later).
But to leave that aside from that for now, let’s look at this question through today’s reading from Deuteronomy. In Chapters 8 & 9 , entitled “Warning Not to Forget God” – we’re reminded of God’s jealous love for His chosen people. He’s articulated humanity’s side of the covenant (the 10 commandments) quite explicitly at least three times now. This entire chapter expands on what Fr Mike shared yesterday – that God knows the hearts of his people. That they will indeed be tempted to want to fit in with the people, possibly fall for other ideas, even fall for other gods. NO WAY – they might argue… Yet Moses has a clear memory of when a 40 day delay on his part coming down the mountain resulted in a golden calf emerging.
For whatever reason, these lands, these peoples had been corrupted and had corrupting influences. And one thought that has come to mind is we don’t know if or how God had tried to reach out to these different peoples and lands. We know that God had picked the Israelites as His Chosen people – but they were meant to be “chosen” to be a call to the rest of humanity to come to know, come to love, come to serve the one True God. Were there prophets in the midsts of those peoples who had called them to take notice of what God was doing through Moses, through the Chosen People? Were there opportunities for them to convert and repent that were ignored? Was that how they became defiled? We don’t know. The Bible is the story of salvation – not the story of the damned. And the warnings that are contained for God’s chosen people only underscore the importance of these decisions.
It reminds me and I’m going to need to reflect some more on this myself – but in the Catholic rites for ordination, there’s a part when the man being ordained is told that he is to strive to put to death whatever in your members is sinful. Those words (which actually come from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, I think) kind of pierce the heart and soul. They remind us of the things that are in our lives, the things we’ve allowed in and know are holding us back from the call to holiness that the Lord intends for us. The reality that the Chosen People then – and us, His chosen people now – are living in a world where that identity is constantly challenged by other gods. We’re no longer looking at terrains to inhabit and people’s to battle. The turf has gone much closer to home – interiorly in our heart. What members are there… what members have we allowed in that never should have been, that we’ve tolerated, that we’ve accommodated, that we’ve even shown mercy for – which we never should have?
DAY 60: Numbers 10; Deuteronomy 9; Psalm 10
PRAYER WORKS… JUST ASK MOSES
I really loved this chapter of Deuteronomy – which is kind of funny when the title of it is so ominous:“CONSEQUENCES OF REBELLING AGAINST GOD” – doesn’t exactly seem like it’s going to bring about a lot of happy or inspiring thoughts. But reading this truly did. The first is the reality of Moses’ “fatherhood” to the people of Israel – he sees they are about ready to enter into the promised land, and that he’s not going with them. He’s worried. He knows the people “You are a stubborn people.” (vs. 6) – I underlined that and wrote next to it – yes, yes I am… I am Italian from New Jersey…. Then I remembered – oh this is Moses talking to the Jews of his day and age. But the thing is he’s having a heart-to-heart, honest, loving conversation with his people.
In this instance we see it in the fact that Moses kind of brags on the fact that he laid prostrate for 40 days and 40 nights to intercede for the people after they’re previous infractions had left them jeopardized, open to being obliterated, wiped off the face of the earth by God. Moses was so moved to fear for his people that he pours himself into this intense prayer for God’s mercy.
Not only did God listen to that prayer… something else happened. God’s people had also become truly Moses’ people as well. The sacrifice of himself to intercede for them had melted away any and all of his previous doubts about his worthiness; questions about his abilities; personal frustrations with people who he and God could be in agreement, were truly ‘stiff necked’ to put it mildly. Somehow in the crazy journey’s, the struggles, the trials, the triumphs… Moses had grown to love the people as his very own – even though they weren’t. They were God’s… that He had entrusted to Moses for this time.
Moses’ heart expands in ways he never imagined or anticipated. And in that, Moses reveals that dual purpose that prayer brings about – not just intercession for the one who’s being prayed for – but that prayer changes us.
As a priest one of the joys that I can share with you, and I know I can speak for Fr. Mike on this as well – that’s how we feel about you. You’re not “ours.” We have no “claim” to you as our own like a biological parent has on their child. Yet, in the mystery of God’s love and providence, he entrusts His people to some of his other people. And in the process, hopefully we all are blessed, all come to encounter Jesus Christ, all are convinced of the power and efficacy of prayer. If you take nothing else from today’s readings and reflection than this, that would be enought: Prayer works.
DAY 61: Numbers 11; Deuteronomy 10; Psalm 33
MANNA AGAIN? OY VEY
Numbers 11: Bread, which was free, with free delivery, fresh, every day…
What was miraculous becomes monotonous. Before you know it, the Israelites are harboring thoughts of trading their miracle back for slavery – just to eat some of the Egyptian delicacies again.
It wasn’t about the bread. It never is. The tempter is always sowing seeds of distrust, envy, division. The time in bondage is forgotten while the variety of scraps of food they received during their captivity is thought of as a banquet. The evil one and his cohort seduces them with lies that Egypt wasn’t so bad… while demeaning the daily bread offered by a loving, generous, heavenly Father.
So often the 40 years between Egypt and the promised land is described as “wandering.” Wandering evokes a sense of aimlessness, lack of direction. But that’s not really accurate. God knew what He was doing. He not only fed them miraculously, but led them with miraculous pillars of fire and clouds… The wandering really was in the hearts of the Israelites as they wrestled with questions like:
Was Manna good enough?
Was freedom worth it?
Was God worthy of their trust?
The questions seem breathtakingly arrogant and dripping with jaw dropping lack of gratitude. Yet God took the risk (takes the risk) in letting the question get asked, of hearing these hurtful thoughts and condescending words. All with the hope that those wandering hearts will eventually come to answer with a profound, simple, confident – Yes.
DAY 62: Numbers 12 & 13; Deuteronomy 11; Psalm 94
TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN, MUCH IS REQUIRED
If you missed some of the soap-opera like drama we encountered in Genesis a few weeks ago, then Numbers 12 must have been a welcome read. You have Moses getting remarried… Older sister disapproving (siding with Moses’ original wife) with brother Aaron siding with his sister… and God siding with Moses. It’s a big old mess Fr. Mike mentioned that you have family gossip at work… But no doubt many of our modern ears which understandable concerns about gender discrimination will wonder why is Miriam treated so harshly and seemingly Aaron gets a slap on the wrist for the same thing?
Digging a little deeper, it’s important to note that translations aren’t always so precise. So Jewish scholars point out that while it would be expected that Aaron as the older brother and the priest to be named first (the Chapter actually identifies it as Aaron and Miriam speak against Moses) the actual scripture starts “Miriam and Aaron spoke against” indicating that Miriam was the instigator – and that the actual word was the singular feminine form that would be more accurately she spoke, instead of the plural they spoke. So Hebrew scholars explain that Miriam spoke against Moses but Aaron listened silently and did not protest.
I have to admit, it still sounds like Miriam is being thrown under the bus.
So I dug deeper. Sarah Silberberg who’s a scholar of the Torah shared some insights that caught my attention. She explained that every time we encounter Miriam in scripture she speaks and acts boldly. As a young girl, she (with her mother) work to defy the horrific order from Pharaoh that every Hebrew boy be killed at birth. When her father decided to divorce from his wife to avoid having anymore children (and avoiding this horror), Miriam confronts her father calling him “worse than Pharaoh” for causing scandal and bad example to the Jewish community. Which caused her father to reunite with his wife, and baby Moses is born. When baby brother Moses is put in the basket on the Nile, to save him from being killed, it’s young Miriam who watches, waited to see what happens and then helps arrange for their own mother to end up nursing Moses.
In short, Miriam is fearless…. She would be an important part of the trio with brothers Moses and Aaron in the story of salvation. So when God hears this envious, slanderous, divisive talk from her – and seeing big brother Aaron following her lead, that’s what enrages God. Had these been legitimate concerns over Moses’ righteousness, the strong, fearless and righteous woman that she was would have confronted her brother Moses herself. She was better than this… That’s what God was calling out.
Again, we’re reminded, there are consequences to our sins (lest we forget, poor Moses won’t even get to the Promised Land!) Yet in the midst of this, God is still working. She’s not banished forever for this sin. She’s not excommunicated from the family or the community. Moses and Aaron intercede for her, and the community waits for her restoration before they can proceed.
But during this season of Lent, it’s a good reminder of the importance of the effects of our sins on one another – and even more, the importance of praying for those in positions of leadership in the Church. It was St. John Chrysostom who said The road to hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lampposts that light the path. If that’s true, a 7 day bout with leprosy isn’t so bad 🙂
DAY63: Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 12; Psalm 95
GUARDING YOUR HEART, GUIDING YOUR MIND
Reading Numbers 14 the first thought was – well that was depressing. Anytime we read of God’s anger – it’s depressing. It’s interesting people continue to bring up their impression that God in the Old Testament comes across as “meaner” than in the New Testament. Part of that: reading God’s emotional reaction of annihilating a group of people might give that impression… Whereas in the New Testament we tend to focus on Jesus’ words at the Sermon on the Mount – the Beatitudes, turning the other cheek. I kind of think it’s more “selective memory” though. Jesus talks about Hell a lot…. We just don’t spend a lot of time there. (Oh and spoiler alert, this Sunday, Jesus runs really hot…) But I’m going off on a tangent here.
What was it that was so bad about this entire episode? We see the Chosen people, choosing not to be. Here it is – this is supposed to be the peak moment in the story of salvation. The People have an opportunity to respond to all that God had done for the people, leading them to this pivotal moment. It all comes down to this question – will they trust God more than their limited visions, their conflicted hearts; their confused minds? All the understandable human emotions coming into play can’t excuse this failure. They’ve been there, done that too many times. God had made a way when there wasn’t one far too many times before – how could they have been so forgetful of all of that when He’s preparing them for this moment of triumph. Even more maddening is reading how after the failure, they attempt to take the land without Moses, without God. Now they want to be brave? Or perhaps that original sin, the lie of the tempter is coming back again being gods themselves?
That this chapter is coupled with Deuteronomy 12 in our reading plan is providential (I don’t know how Fr Mike and Jeff Cavins went about putting this together, so I’m going with “providential”) In Deuteronomy we see God giving the people orders to tear down pagan shrines. To us living in a diverse society that claims “Freedom of Religion” as one of it’s bedrock principles (we can debate that another time another place) it seems so intolerant.
It is. It’s meant to be. God is telling His people – what it means to be Chosen. You shall have no other gods. In Catholic circles, this is called “avoiding the near occasion of sin.” To be people of faith, to respond to God’s directions and commands demands single mindedness that will at times mean overriding logic and emotion.
For me, that’s the takeaway from these readings. We are more than just Chosen people… In our Baptisms we have been made members of the Body of Christ; His sons and daughters – our relationship has gotten far more intimate, personal. We have to guard our hearts and guide our minds not to be led astray by those who like the Israelites are crying out all night to God and then ignoring His commands the next day. We have to guard our hearts, guide our minds to remain attuned to Him and not let the gods and idols of the world distract us.
DAY 64: Numbers 15; Deuteronomy 13 & 14; Psalm 96
THATS WHY WE DON’T EAT MEAT ON FRIDAY’S
Every Lent, there’s a flurry of interest in the “abstinence rule” which asks Catholics to forgo eating any “flesh meats” (beef, chicken, pork) on Friday’s. (Interestingly, Canon Law [Church Law] still mandates the practice for every Friday of the year -which was the norm before the reforms of Vatican II allowed for a substitute penance – but that’s a conversation for another day)
Some joke that this is some long-standing pack that the Pope’s had with a Fisherman’s union. Others ridicule the importance of the practice and dismiss it as a relic of the past. But the readings from yesterday and today kind of highlight the precedent that this has coming from our ancestors.
As we hear all these eating regulations being spelled out in Deuteronomy (and also we heard about this when we were going through Leviticus) we were introduced into the notion of good/bad or clean/unclean animals – which animals could and could not be eaten. The reasoning behind all these choices is never completely spelled out. It’s not really our right to question God for His choices and commands. But scholars will point to some of the regulations having connection to animals that were considered “gods” to pagans; or sacrificed in pagan religions/territories. Some would have been physically unhealthy for a human being to eat. But in the end it didn’t really matter, these were God’s regulations that He was asking His people to follow.
One of the beautiful aspects of the dietary regulations for the Jews was that it made eating more of an intentional activity. They had to be mindful of what they ate, how they prepared it, when they would eat it… there was something of a ritual to it, which when they remembered why or rather Who had asked them to do these things, made it a way of being mindful of God – of worshiping Him in a task that was very much a part of their everyday lives.
When we get to the New Testament chapters, we’ll learn why we as Christians were released from these prohibitions. But that hopefully gives us food for thought (sorry, couldn’t resist) when we think about not eating meat on Fridays. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the greatest of sacrifices to have to make. When the practice began, meat used to be expensive, often tied to celebratory occasions which were meant to be refrained from throughout Lent and on Fridays as a way of always being mindful of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross on Good Friday (kind of like Sundays are meant to be celebrated as “The Lord’s Day” with Mass and Sabbath rest as being mindful of Easter Sunday)
It’s nowhere near as complex or extensive as our Jewish ancestors experienced (and many continue to do so today). But for us on Fridays to say “no” to something we want; saying “I can’t” in a world that shuns limitations on any individual desire – is a way of bringing our being “set apart” by Christ into our daily lives and routines.
DAY 65: Numbers 16; Deuteronomy 15 & 16; Psalm 97
WHO CHOSE WHO
This chapter of Numbers is certainly memorable (and would make a pretty impressive scene in a movie). The three men Korah, Dathan and Abiram getting consumed by the earth – it’s kind of hard to miss the point that God was displeased with them. What made this so infuriating to God? I mean, we’ve seen and heard the people whining, complaining, being envious a bunch of times. Miriam, Moses’ sister only got leprosy for a week – how was what these three were doing so much worse?
I think that at it’s core is the lack of self-awareness. They have let the reality of being “Chosen People” go to their heads. They somehow have told themselves that they are in charge. They can determine who and what is right. They have told themselves that Moses and Aaron are making up the rules, the regulations, the protocols as they go along and so they decide to rebel saying “we’re all chosen people” or more precisely “all the congregation are holy.”
Somewhere along the way they not only projet their pride, their arrogance, their selfish desires on Moses and Aaron – they completely forget God Himself. They relegate Him to some disinterested, disengaged bystander – rather than the one who did the “choosing” of this His “chosen people.”
Aside from that arrogance, another practical takeaway: we’re not going to grow close to God by passing judgment on others
DAY 66 – Numbers 17; Deuteronomy 17 & 18; Psalm 98
THERMOMETERS OR THERMOSTATS?
Reading Deuteronomy with the realization that not only is this God’s word, but it’s also Moses last word – you can hear the mix of contexts going on. There’s a care and a concern in these passages. You can hear the voice of one who speaks with intimate knowledge of the people being addressed. Which is true for both God, who is the creator of all – as well as Moses who after decades of being with and leading this people, knows them pretty well too.
This“dual authorship” came to mind reading these chapters – where Moses is trying to prepare the people for life after he’s gone. How will they know God’s will? God and Moses make it clear to them – they’re not to look at the people’s around them for advice or example: “Anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering…” (Yeah kind of went with the most dramatic example) But again, both God and Moses know their people. They know how easily tempted they are to follow the examples of those around them. Even after they’ve been saved from the enslaving forces of Egypt, they are still somehow tempted to remember things with a distorted vision of how goof they had it. So they are reminded don’t look back – and don’t look around at what’s new, what’s different, what you see everyone else doing.
They are to be the ones who stand out, who are different, by following the direction of the Lord. By listening to the voice of the Lord who will raise up prophets like Moses. How will they be able to tell who those prophets are? There will be a continuity in the teaching, in the example, someone who is faithful in every sense of the word.
The beautiful thing for us to recognize is how in Jesus Christ, the Law, the Prophets are fulfilled. Yet the need for these words still remain for us. For those reading this on March 7, the third Sunday of Lent, at Mass today, you will hear the 10 commandments being proclaimed in the first reading from Exodus (ah you bible experts will be perking up hearing this today 🙂 ) The words first given to Moses, given to the people, remain very much in effect. And yet, so many of us are continued to be tempted by all sorts of false prophets, false gods promising us all sorts of answers to the questions that are a part of every human experience – Where did I come from? Where am I going? What does all this mean?
Moses’ injunction not to be swayed by the world around them -but rather truly acting like “Chosen people” to eventually “sway” the world is even more urgent in our day and age. As we live in an increasingly “post-Christian” secularized world – it brings to mind a conference I went to where the speaker left us with the question are we thermometers or thermostats? Do we simply conform to the whims and directions of the world, or do we transform the world by our faithfulness to God’s word?
DAY 67 – Numbers 18; Deuteronomy 19 & 20; Psalm 99
There’s a difference between someone claiming a war is a “Holy War” and when God makes that claim. Throughout history, there have been people, nations, even religious leaders (including Catholic Church leaders) who have falsely called a battle, a conquest they were engaging in – or rather asking/forcing others to engage in as a “Holy War.” And because it was about religion and religious practices, forced conversions and other problematic practices, we can see where this misnomer has come from.
The very narrow experience of a “Holy War” only comes up here as God prepares His people to enter the promised Land and at the end of time when God brings final judgment on humanity…
It’s important to put this in historical and spiritual context. God is continuing to fashion His people, His nation and preparing them to enter into their homeland. For whatever reason the Canaanites have become enemies of God, and they are inhabiting the land that God has determined as the Promised Land.
The Canaanites will be superior in almost every way to the Hebrews, who’ve been wandering in the desert. They will have home field advantage, they will be technologically advanced (having chariots which were like modern day tanks) In the face of those realities, God gives the Israelites their first pivotal instruction: you are not to be afraid of them. Once again He reminds them, remember in Egypt – who had all the weapons, all the advantages and you had nothing there either, nothing except Me – the Lord God Almighty… and how did that turn out?
The point is, when the battle belongs to the Lord – it is already won. That’s something the Jews are being reminded and conditioned as they enter into battle – and that’s something we need to remember as well.
It sounds a bit repetitive, and I don’t know about you, but I need the reminder… again and again. Yes the bible mentions only two holy wars – but that second one is one is already taking place. Yes we believe in an end time and a final “show down” where God will put an end to the powers of Hell and all that belongs to them (which we’ll hear about later this year) But if our “end time” comes before that definitive one, our personal judgment will be asking how well we fought Satan, the devil, evil in our lives?
As we read and hear these passages about the “Holy War” – may the Word of God speak into our hearts an intolerance for the powers of darkness. While there are surely signs of that throughout our world, the Lord is more interested in our dealing with the closest battlefields: in our hearts.
May we have the courage to do a thorough examination of conscience with the words of the Lord: you shall not be afraid… the Lord your God is with you.
DAY 68 – Numbers 19 & 20 ; Deuteronomy 21; Psalm 100
I’ll be honest, going to leave the Red Heiffer to Fr. Mike to explain.
As I was reading chapter 20 of Numbers, I was having all kinds of reactions. Moses’ sister Miriam has died…and seemingly immediately after the people complain about there not being any water. It was jarring to read how quickly the complaining began, again… with a similar refrain “we wish we had died before than to die here and now.” I guess people still being in the wilderness and all, funeral etiquette was still a bit far off for them.
But my first thought was “when will they learn to turn their whining and complaining into intercession?” And the result is, this doubt that they foster in their hearts and on their lips has an effect on Moses. Even though God gave him clear instructions to call forth water from the rock, Moses doubts God. Moses passes judgment on God imagining that God must be mistaken, or forgotten and must have meant for him to “strike the rock” like he had done the previous time they were in this same predicament (in Exodus). I wonder if perhaps as he’s mourning his sister, and he’s in a vulnerable spot if now Moses “catches” the doubts of the angry mob.
This is why Fr. Mike keeps asking for prayers for himself and for our prayers for each other. It’s why we started this facebook group. Doubts are contagious. Fear is very contagious (I might argue just take a look around our world, not to dismiss or diminish COVID, but the fear seems fear has infected far more and far worse than COVID could ever have…) But you know what else is contagious? Faith is contagious. Joy is infectious.
Instead of turning on Moses and Aaron, AGAIN – if they had any sense of awareness and memory to say “God we’ve seen what you are able to do, we know you are a good God who have provided a way when we never saw a way or thought a way was possible – be with us now in this our need.” The people uttering that prayer coupled with Moses hearing God’s directions would probably have resulted in a much more obedient and trusting Moses. Leaders need our prayers too.
In fairness, they were still wilderness dwellers. As we keep having to remember, they are being tamed and trained from people who reacted to whims, emotions, memories of being enslaved to becoming God’s chosen people, living freely in that new identity. It takes time (40 years wandering in the wilderness as one benchmark). So perhaps we have to cut them some slack and understand why this move from whining and complaining to praising and interceding hasn’t quite registered yet.
But with this opportunity to reflect on their experience, I’m left with that uncomfortable question – What’s my excuse? Pray for me as I pray for you 🙂
DAY 69 Numbers 21; Deuteronomy 22; Psalm 102
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES
As we start chapter 21, it seems like same old same old – We’re hungry, We’re thirsty, We had it better in Egypt… yada… yada… yada… by now we know what’s coming next. But just then, there’s a twist to the story. This time, they don’t go to Moses and have to be told what they did that was wrong. They go themselves, repenting.
We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you…
What a difference a day makes! Recognition and repentance. The taming and training is starting to register from the head to the heart. And what happens? God shows up and shows out in a big way. First the bronze serpent – the very creature that was causing death will now be reversed and become a source of life… and foreshadowing Jesus’ being lifted up on an instrument of death and making the cross the source of eternal life (which spoiler alert, Jesus will be talking about to Nicodemus in this Sunday’s Gospel).
Something else occurs – God’s people start to act and experience the blessings of that identity. They move from city to city, territory to territory and meet enemy after enemy, none proving any match for them.
But this is a pivotal moment. This recognition and repentance moved the people not just to owning their mistakes but also trusting God enough in bringing themselves to Him. Those steps open the eyes of their hearts to true faith… Where they see Him as a Father; they listen to Him lovingly guide them not questioning or arguing (“a snake on a pole? What good is that going to do????”) With that the victories against these lands and kingdoms pale in comparison to the victory won in the hearts of the people.
We all know people – we are people who at some time in some way found themselves at odds with God, fighting against His will, maybe struggling with a sin (maybe not struggling with it, but enjoying it). Messages of why the lack of fulfillment, why the dissatisfaction and sense of being lost might have been said in a variety of ways that perhaps even in our minds we knew were true. None of that has the effect of when we personally have that moment of recognition and repentance… where we turn to Jesus, trusting in His mercy who has revealed God as a good, loving Father waiting to pour out His Holy Spirit upon us to absolve us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as we confess our sins and restore us as His beloved sons and daughters. Going that first time after some time, walking out of that confessional feeling transformed, changed and renewed, we too can appreciate the difference a day makes.
DAY 70 Numbers 22; Deuteronomy 23; Psalm 105
So how many of you expected to find a talking donkey in the Old Testament? Anyone? Chapter 22 of Numbers has to be one of the most mysterious and fascinating of chapters in the narrative. Probably because so few of us have heard about this person Balaam or this whole incident. Here we have someone who is not a Jew, who is able to converse with God. Balaam is enlisted to help by Balak, the King of Moab – after seeing what happened to some neighboring kingdoms of Og and Sihon. Balak had previously suffered defeat at the hands of Sihon, so he figures if the Israelites were able to defeat them, we stand no chance. Actually, Sihon recognized that his gods were no match for the gods of Sihon, so the Lord God was proven even more powerful.
That’s what causes King Balak to reach out to this international man of mystery Ballam who’s got a reputation for being able to bless and curse. We read the dialogue between God and Ballam… We see Ballam has heard what God has said, that he will not curse the Israelites. Ballam seems to be agreeing to what the Lord is saying. Even though God told Ballam to go back with the delegation to Balak, something happens that God’s anger is kindled almost immediately. And while Ballam had been able to converse with the Lord, something stops his perception of God at that moment as the donkey keeps refusing to advance, three times, at which point he hits him and then Donkey or rather the donkey starts talking to him.
Ballam was able to speak to God, and was seemingly obeying Him, yet the Lord sees the hearts of humanity. The same Ballam who was willing to sell his services to bless or curse seemed initially to listen to God’s word forbidding him to curse his people… probably was contemplating how much of a risk would it be for him to do so? Perhaps King Balak is so desperate he’d offer double his initial offer, maybe triple? Maybe Ballam’s pride and ego were now out of control after the God of Israel spoke to him that he was contemplating what God could do for him – or even worse, that Ballam was so inflated that he deluded himself to think he was more powerful than God. We’re not sure, other than God recognized that Ballam’s way was “perverse.”
Whatever it was, Ballam is humbled by a donkey. Whatever perceived power, authority, ability he thought he had, is rendered completely useless by this donkey who won’t move forward.
The more important thing is recongizing God’s action, activity, providence for His people. Even in the most unconventional, unexpected and uncommon of ways, God is caring for His people and speaking His word through even sources not ever considered worthy or acknowledgment or respect for those who love and respect God. That’s a good reminder for us as we journey in an ever growing secular, bizarre world. Where we have leaders, celebrities, media figures that seem distant from being role models in any faith tradition, often times our response is to go into a protective bubble, disengage and ignore every and anything from what we’ve deemed as worthy sources. The reality is, the more we have a heart that’s focused on the Lord – that we align ourselves with His Word (like we’re doing here) and His Sacraments, that enables us to have a discerning spirit. That’s able to see signs of God’s goodness, acts of His provision, messages of faith even in some unexpected places. All that being said, I’d still be a bit concerned if anyone has a message from a talking donkey… Just saying 🙂
DAY 71 – Numbers 23; Deuteronomy 23 – 24; Psalm 106
LETS MAKE A DEAL
One sure fire way to differentiate between a real prophet and a false prophet… a real prophet knows who God is and has a humility and awareness of who they are in the conversation. You would think that a talking donkey might have caught his attention, finally to recognize some truths about himself. Despite whatever it was he may have been able to do in terms of his arts of deception and manipulation in regards to these other “gods” that he had finally met the Lord God Almighty. Yet we see and hear how Balaam keeps going back and forth between King Balak and God, all with the intention of somehow trying to get God to curse the people of Israel. In one sense it is somewhat comical. Maybe if we go here on this mountain, the conditions might alter just enough to be able to persuade God to do what they wanted.
This is just part of paganism and their views of gods. For pagans, gods were somewhat capricious. They were seen as emotional, prone to whims. So the King is operating in a way that he had experienced and expected as a norm with any “spirits” and their “prophets.”
The amazing thing is seeing how God is actually using Balaam to reveal who He is not just to the Jews – but to this pagan world. Which is a reminder of something we heard almost a month ago when we were in Exodus and Leviticus. The point of “The Chosen People” wasn’t to exclude anyone. Gods mission for “the Chosen People” is to reveal Himself through them – to invite the rest of the world into relationship with Him, ultimately included into God the Father’s family. But they need to want to be a part of that family. We hear that desire from Balaam, one of the few times in the Old Testament that a non-Jew expresses a desire to be in relationship with the God of Israel “Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like [Jacob/the people of Israel]” (Numbers 24: 10)
To me these exchanges are fascinating. It’s reminding me of when the Centurion goes to Jesus asking for the healing of his servant in the Gospel of Matthew. For these “outsiders” to begin to perceive something of value, something of worth, something they desire that they have yet to encounter elsewhere. The centurion and Balaam are both looking for a blessing from God – which is distinct and unlike anything they had ever encountered elsewhere. They both in a sense wonder what will be required – what offering, what sacrifice, what will entice God?
It was St. Augustine who beautifully prayed “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” God’s never been interested in making a deal with us – He desires us and wants us to be so won over by that realization of His love that nothing else would matter or suffice.
DAY 72 – Numbers 24-25; Deuteronomy 26; Psalm 107
So after a few days with these interesting characters of Balaam and King Balak where we’ve had a donkey speaking to a false prophet; the false prophet speaking to God; these two non-Jews trying to get the Lord God to curse His people (and failing miserably) – even leaving Balaam to sound like he’s longing to be apart of God’s people “How fair are your tents O Jacobm your encampments O Israel (Numbers 24: 5)… After we see how God continues to remain faithful, loyal to His people – it’s like a smack in the face to read Chapter 25. It comes so suddenly,”Israel…began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab.”
No King Balak couldn’t hire anyone to curse Israel. Balaam for whatever he was able to do with his dark arts and such, couldn’t curse Israel. That, sadly, is something that only they could do to themselves. Which they did.
It’s a reminder when earlier we might have felt uncomfortable with the seeming command of God to destroy any foreigners to the Chosen People. Here’s an example of why. The Israelites try to be “neighborly” to the Canaanites they encounter. Their wayward, broken hearts easily fall for the seductions of the Moabite and Midianite women and the pagan practices and worship of false gods.
So close and yet… Just a few days ago we saw how after their repentance, God brought healing to the serpents and led them from victory to victory over Sihon and Bashan – and now they are right back into a state of grave sin.
This is a good reminder for us of the words of St. Peter “be sober and alert, your opponent the devil prowls like a lion for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Satan is constantly looking for another way to tempt and seduce us. And just because we were victorious before, doesn’t ever mean we can take that previous victory to mean the next one is guaranteed.
DAY 73 – Numbers 26 ; Deuteronomy 27; Psalm 111
FORK IN THE ROAD
As Deuteronomy moves along, we have to keep coming back to the reality that this is Moses final words to the Israelites. He knows he will not be entering the promised land with them. And as we’ve seen at least a few times thi last week, just when it seems the Israelites “get it” that God is pretty serious about the covenant, they just as quickly forget. Perhaps that’s the charitable interpretation… maybe they get bored, tired, curious. Whatever the reason, they seem to play fast and loose with the covenant, the 10 commandments.
Which is why it’s interesting that the Lord directs Moses and the elders of the people that on the day when the promise of the promised land is fulfilled – God won’t trace the commandments with his finger on stones, Moses (well he won’t be there) – nor any of the leaders won’t be reciting them to the people… the people themselves are being ordered to carve the law on stone. And not just the 10 commandments, but a deeper reflection of what those laws. It’s not just “thou shalt not have any gods before me” but now “cursed be the man who makes a graven or molten image.”
Not that God wasn’t clear before, but it’s almost like the people themselves need to take ownership of these commandments as they enter into the promised land. And decide for themselves how sincerely they want to be there, to be His people or not. It’s one thing to look at 10 commandments on tablets and the mental gymnastics we can go through to decide if there’s a loophole hear ot here. It’s another thing when I’m carving these words myself and recognizing I’m putting everything on the line myself – I’m agreeing that I’m cursed, I’ve brought the curse on myself if I rebel, if I turn away.
It’s a pivotal moment for them. There times of “wandering” will be at an end, if they truly want it to be. But there’s no free ride – there’s hopes, there’s expectations, there’s repurcussions. But there’s also no greater blessings they can conceive.
As we go through the season of Lent, in a few short weeks when we get to Easter, once again we will renew our Baptismal promises. Maybe this day we can take time to “google” them and reflect on them… bringing the seriousness in our answers that the Lord had in mind when these words were spoken to His first Chosen People.
DAY 74: Numbers 27 & 28; Deuteronomy 28; Psalm 112
FAITH FILLED FEMINISM
In the United States, the month of March has been declared “Women’s History Month” for the last several decades as a way of highlighting the significant contributions of women that for too long were not recognized or respected. It’s providential that we would meet five amazing women who could be considered the first feminists in a time when that concept was the furthest thing from being considered by the societies that inhabited the earth.
Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah – the daughters of Zelophehad of the family line of Joseph – at the conclusion of the census, as things are being organized for the possession of the Promised Land – these five women come forward and point out an obvious injustice. Their father had not rebelled against the Lord; had passed away before the day of entry into the Promised Land; they have remained faithful – didn’t they as his daughters deserve what would’ve been given to him?
Fr. Mike has been highlighting as we’ve encountered some challenging passages particularly where the descriptions of “taking” a woman; some of the really jarring sections regarding cases of rape; questions over divorce and adultery – how for the people of this time and age, the Lord God is introducing concepts of justice, of fairness to a humanity that was often wildly violent, rebellious and grossly unfair. And in those examples, he often highlighted with each step, that the dignity of women was being promoted where the treatment of other kingdoms of women as “property” was not permitted. God was bringing them back to basics (Back to Genesis) And with each of those still unsettling “laws and ordinances” to our ears, that God was establishing care and protection for the daughters of Israel – (and ultimately for all women)
Which is what makes this scene at the beginning of Numbers 27 that much more courageous. The women have heard and come to believe that in God’s eyes they are beloved… they are noticed… they are treasured… they share the dignity that men do as being made by God’s hands in His divine image. So they boldly go to Moses with their concern – who recognizes the uniqueness of their claim that is unprecedented up to this moment and so he does the only thing he knows he can – go to God with it. And scripture tells us God says “the daughters… are right.”
I recently came upon one definition of Faith – that treated it as an acronym: “Forsaking All I Trust Him.” Where does their courage, their insight and wisdom, their strength come from? The same place it comes from for men – from God. These 5 women, not only should be heroines to the feminist movement, but are true examples of FAITH to all of us.
DAY 75: Numbers 29 & 30; Deuteronomy 29; Psalm 113
SEEN – BUT NOT ABLE TO SEE
This week will be the last week we hear from Moses… as we come close to the end of Number & Deuteronomy – the end of the 40 years of wandering, the end of Moses’ life here on earth. As Fr. Mike has been pointing out, this entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell sermon – and you can almost sense the emotion. The care he has for the people of Israel who Moses has shepherded. The concern he has knowing very well their history – a history he has travelled with him.
Which is why we continue to encounter so much repetition particularly with the commandments, the recounting of the different events of salvation. Partially because, as we know, repetition is the key to learning. That will be essential for the Jews for countless generations, even till today as part of their religious training and celebrations centralize the importance of repeating these key moments and teachings.
But for a lot of these men and women, they lived through the very things Moses is re-telling. It’s not like this is some future generation just coming to learn their history. Yet Moses’ words (Deut 29: 2-6) reveal his great fear: You have seen – but you don’t understand, you don’t see, you don’t hear…. Interestingly, Moses puts the onus on God though – saying the Lord has not given you a mind to understand, eyes to see, the ears to hear. There’s this tension that Moses senses between what has been revealed, what is hidden, and who’s responsible for the lack of recognition.
While it’s easy to point out God’s intolerant of outright sin. What we can miss in these Old Testament passages is His patience. Yes Moses feels the need to continue to be a “broken record” repeating things over and over again. But who gave the Israelites Moses in the first place? Who gave Moses this loving servant’s heart that cares so desperately for this people? It was a far from perfect heart as we know all too well from our travels with Moses for these weeks. There was stubbornness, there were moments of rebellion, times when he gave into fear and doubt. God had to call him out… correct, punish, train him. He might not even realize how all of that was essential in Moses coming to understand, to see, to hear – to love God and His people.
Moses had the mind, eyes, ears and heart – as do each of us. We also have freedom, and good and bad influences, and the complexity of daily life that can distract us, tempt and confuse us on our earthly pilgrimage. It’s easy to beat ourselves up when we have an Aha moment, or a clarity or revelation and think to ourselves what was wrong with me, why am I so [fill in the blank with whatever negative characteristics we label ourselves with in these situations]
God thinks we’re worth His time, His effort, His patience. He wants us to keep repeating, remembering, reflecting so that we can experience the joy of the psalmists words from today’s Psalm: He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people (Psalm 113: 7-8)
DAY 76: Numbers 31; Deuteronomy 30; Psalm 116
FUNNY WAY TO CHOOSE LIFE
I’m going to have to ask Fr. Mike if when they put together the reading plan if they lined up chapters like today’s or was that just by providence. That we hear of this bloody war and slaughter in the book of Numbers only to turn to Deuteronomy and read the “Exhortation to Choose Life.” It seems like a contradiction or at least some mixed messaging for sure.
But as I wrote that paragraph and re-read the passages it hits me that only comes from a distorted notion of God that I have. That somehow God has to fit into my perspective of what is right and just. That I’m in a position to judge to say “God shouldn’t have done that.”
First off, we have to remember that a few chapters back, Midian had set themselves up to be enemies of God. God had made it clear to King Balak and his enlisted sorcerer Balaam, eventually through a talking donkey – that the Israelites were His Chosen people. That Balak, Balaam would not be able to conjure up any divinations to curse them. That God would not curse His people whom He had entered into covenant with.
What wasn’t explicitly stated earlier but is borne out here (and in other biblical texts that we will come to later) after God had made it clear He wouldn’t curse His people, Balaam, King Balak and the Midianite (and Moabite women) conspired to tempt the Hebrews into “cursing themselves” by enticing, seducing and tempting them… into sexual immorality, into apostasy and idolatry. As a result of that, we had read how God had already punished and purified His people with the plagues that they suffered in the immediate aftermath. Now as the journey into the promised land is soon upon them, before Moses’ death and Joshua becomes the new leader, the Lord orders through Moses that the ones who helped lead the rebellion against God are being dealt with (it’s a familiar pattern – in Genesis after Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit and are banished from the Garden – then God punishes the serpent)
Part of what makes us uncomfortable reading these passages is that at it’s core is the reality of God punishing sin. As Catholic Christians, that’s a concept that shouldn’t be new or revolutionary. For my parent’s generation there was an over-emphasis on that reality which lead to a hyper-sensitivity where eating meat on Friday was considered a mortal sin that you had to go to confession before going to communion. (A.K.A. “Catholic Guilt”). For my generation and since – the emphasis has been on God’s love and mercy, which is an important part that perhaps the previous generation missed in some of their education. But the pendulum probably went too far in the opposite direction. My CCD classes was more coloring books of happy animals coming off an ark, kind of ignoring why they needed to go on the ark in the first place.
This could go off in a tangent on that paradigm shifts over what was emphasized/over emphasized and the pros and cons on those things. Suffice it to say, God does not rejoice in these incidents. He’s not vindictive or blood thirsty. But on the other hand, words, actions mean things. Something else that we’ve seen the pendulum swing on in our modern world.
Deuteronomy clearly ties “choosing life” not as “living your life by doing whatever you want to make you happy” but by “Loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, by keeping his commandments and his statutes and ordinances…” In Jesus, what we find is that all of those laws are revolutionized and humanized… they’re expanded in many ways and become even more demanding. While at the same time, God draws ever closer to us. He makes himself that much more accessible, vulnerable to us to experience His tremendous mercy in the Incarnation. God has upped the expectations for humanity, while at the same time walks with us as one of us. To show us, yes the road is narrow… it is hard to take up the cross and follow Him… but it is indeed possible to choose life, for now and all eternity.
DAY 77: Numbers 32; Deuteronomy 31; Psalm 117
LOOKING FOR ANY GOOD NEWS
Chapter 31 of Deuteronomy is kind of a downer, isn’t it? Moses is about to die – and knows it’s coming… The joy that should accompany Israel’s long-awaited entry into the Promised Land is undermined by the prediction that (shocker of shockers) they will once again rebel, be disobedient, break the covenant with the Lord. The defeatists, pessimists among us might be tempted to wonder – what’s the point then? To have gotten this far and it seems like the same old, same old for God’s people.
But that’s not the full story. God states in assuring words, despite what has happened – what may, or will happen “…the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31: 8).
This time of taming and training in the wilderness; this time of sacrifice for Moses as a leader has not been in vain. Even as the brokenness of humanity will continue… with bad choices, giving into temptations – the people, His people – are coming to know and love Him. They’re beginning to understand the specialness in being “chosen.” They’re starting to appreciate the uniqueness of their relationship with God.
This isn’t giving them a blank check to presume God’s forgiveness for future sins without consequence – but the promise is restated: God will never give up on humanity. Despite the difficulties, tensions, and challenges this will continue to represent, this is indeed Good News.
DAY 78: Number 33; Deuteronomy 32; Psalm 118
DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN…
Coming to the end of Numbers and Deuteronomy, Fr. Mike has been reminding us that Numbers is the actual narrative leading up to the journey into the Promisesd Land, while Deutereonmy is Moses’ “last sermon” so to speak that was first given right before they actually are going into the Promised Land. So the timelines are kind of syncing up right now. Numbers goes through precise detail about each and every step of this long journey from Egypt to Canaan, and then the “Song of Moses” also recounts Israel’s history.
It reminds me of a couple of men and women who I have the honor of walking with in Spiritual Direction for over a decade. Every so often, something that might come up that they’re facing that might seem overwhelming or unprecedented or unclear and one of the things I like to do is help them retrace their history. Do you remember when… that girl who you thought was ‘the one’ broke up with you and now you’re married to the one who really is the one, with three kids? Do you remember when you couldn’t get into that class, which meant you had to spend an extra semester here and that opened the door to getting that internship for the amazing job you have now? Do you remember when that depression that had weighed you down for years, that you experienced a miraculous healing of on that retreat?
It’s not just effective for them, but it’s a beautiful experience for me to witness and participate in. To know and see and hear how God was active isn’t just an exercise in nostalgia. We speak these words of faith rejoicing and recalling what God has done to renew our faith and make us aware and attentive for whatever it is we’re facing now.
The Israelites are about to fulfill a long held dream, a promise, a destiny. They’ve been on the edge of greatness before and balked. This time of 40 years of wandering, like we’ve discussed could be interpreted as punishment or training. In either case, the importance of retracing their steps – when they listened and didn’t listen to God’s word, they need to commit this to memory – it needs to be a song in their hearts, to be sung each step moving further.
Numbers 34; Deuteronomy 33; Psalm 120
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
Reading Chapter 33 of Deuteronomy today was more emotional than at any other time that I’ve encountered this scripture – which was unexpected. Knowing that the Word of God is alive and active, and spending all these days and weeks with Moses as a central figure, coming to this chapter where Moses is saying goodbye to his fellow Jews and offering final blessings was quite moving. You can hear his intimate knowledge of each of the 12 tribes. And it’s easy to get lost in all those details (what did each blessing mean for each particular tribe… how it fit into Israel’s history) Which for those more theologically minded is an interesting exercise.
But two tidbits that came to mind from studies on this. The first is to recognize how in the first 5 verses there are 5 blessings noted for all of God’s people.
1- God’s presence in their midst
2- God’s love and care for them (provisions, security, protection)
3 – God’s gift of worship – the people had a way to come to Him
4 – God’s law – a guide, a manual on how to navigate the brokenness of the world and stay in righ relationship
5- God’s promise to continue to rule over them – that they would have Him as their King
Those notable characteristics were unprecedented for any other ancient people’s who were following gods who are proved false in that we don’t recall any of their names, can point to peoples following them unlike the vast majority of the world who claim in some manner to be following the Lord God today.
The other thing to focus on is how this chapter, and Moses’ final FINAL word both begin and end focused on God – blessing Him as the Creator, Protector, Sustainer, Provider, Redeemer. How God had proved that and How He continues to do so. In that, Moses gives us a pattern for our prayer – with praise and thanksgiving for what He has done, intercession for those we’re praying for, and concluding with trust and confidence in His continued goodness and providence.
We’ve gotten to travel with Moses over these days and weeks. In that time we’ve seen some ups and downs, but ultimately how Moses responding to God’s grace transformed him into a stranger who was shy, self-conscious, doubting of himself and God -into one of the greatest of servants of the Lord to have ever existed. Like all good Saints, may Moses’ life, history, example inspire us to do the same.
Numbers 35 & 36; Deuteronomy 34; Psalm 121
Congratulations and God Bless you as we conclude our “desert wanderings” today! It wasn’t 40 years – not even 40 days (well close, it was about 30) but, at least for me, it felt pretty lengthy. And our time in Numbers and Deuteronomy ends somewhat anti-climactically. We’ve known it was coming and today we read in Deuteronomy very simply about Moses’ death. There’s nothing elaborate described about it, nor about the mourning period of 30 days that followed. And in the book of Numbers, God gives further instructions to the Israelites about how they are to set up the promised land.
The common theme between the two of them to me was the sense of “refuge.”
In Numbers, we see another aspect of ancient society being reined in by God who is taming, training the people of Israel, his Chosen people – who will eventually be a shining example to the rest of the world – of justice, of mercy, of empathy, of kindness. You might recall it being mentioned in previous days that the ancient world often could be incredibly violent and unreasonable. The notion of an “eye for an eye” for example was to correct that impulse of “you took my eye, well, you and your entire family must die” response. We can understand that human impulse and emotion – may have even felt that ourselves (or perhaps that’s just me? I am Italian… we can be overly emotional 🙂 ) So the law has now brought some parameters into the human experience.
We see that again in today’s readings from Numbers. If a person killed someone in an accident – the ancient world response would have been the death of that person. So two men working on a construction site, and one is killed at the hands of a mistake by another, the punishment would have been death. Yet God is trying to teach people how He sees man’s hearts. He reads their intentions and purposes. He is compassionate. So while the family of the deceased are probably understandably overwhelmed with grief and anger, God sees and understands the sadness, the fear in the one who caused the death. So He designates these “cities of refuge” where this “killer” would be protected and could live in peace. He’s showing concern for all His people.
For Moses, his first 40 years of life was in Egyptian palaces. By God’s providence and design, Moses had survived the order of the death of all Hebrew Children by Pharaoh and just to underline the point of WHO REALLY WAS IN CHARGE was actually adopted by Pharaoh’s family. Then for 40 years Moses was a shepherd under his Father in Law Jethro. All that time working with sheep was God’s way of forming, humbling and teaching Moses patience and trust – which resulted in Moses being “the meekest man on earth” (Numbers 12:3). And then these last 40 years was as leader of God’s people – out of Egypt into the promised land. In varied and unique ways, God provided a refuge – and ultimately was a refuge for Moses.
As our time in the wilderness in the Bible in a year comes to a close – we’re reminded how God desires to be our refuge as well. Not just spiritually or sentimentally, but in substantial ways that impact every aspect of our lives. Today’s psalm (one of my personal favorites) sings those praises so eloquently: from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!
Praise God, our refuge and our strength!