Third Sunday of Lent - "The gods neither know nor understand, wandering about in darkness, and all the world's foundations shake."

Tom Bartolomeo
March 3, 2017
Reproduced with Permission

As the days of Lent move forward so does the Exodus of the Israelites led by Moses from four hundred years of slavery to freedom at last, but many of them were unprepared. Last Sunday we witnessed the arrogance of Pharaoh how he relented on his promise to Moses to "let his people go". He pursued them through the desert out of revenge and the troubles actually he brought upon himself and his people, the death of his heir and every first born of Egypt.

His "stubbornness" cost him his entire army which drowned in the Red Sea (actually the Sea of Reeds). Two and a half months later in the desert we read in the Book of Exodus the "stubborness" of the Israelites "grumbling" before God when he gives them manna (bread) from heaven in the form of morning frost and quail in the evening their daily food for forty years. Later in their stubbornness "they quarreled with Moses and said, "give us water to drink"; and, again, God gave them water from the rock of Horeb thereafter a place called, Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord in our midst or not?"

Continuing their journey in the desert of Sinai God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. God knew that the people would be motivated by fear and so

"on the morning of the third day there were peals of thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. But Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, the Lord came down upon it in fire. The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while Moses was speaking and God answering him with thunder."

Were we in the same circumstances would we say to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us"? So God summoned Moses to the heights of the mountain and gave him his commandments for his people. Moses remained with God for forty days and nights, and God explained the precepts of his commandments, how the Israelites should conduct themselves with God and all other persons and live in peace.

We know the rest of the story, of a people led out of slavery to freedom which Zechariah announced centuries later would come with the birth of Christ who would be the incarnate Word of God's commandments for us to follow, who said, "he has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David" who "through his holy prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies . . . free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life, (Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79).

Yet, the people of God who wandered in a desert and we, their successors, who sojourn in the wilderness of our world -- despite God's extraordinary interventions in times past and present -- we, too, so often remain "stubborn of heart", no better than a Pharaoh or an Israelite who refuses to enter the promised land. We are all, in one degree or another, stubborn. And why?

The one thing we share in common, good and bad, as humans we are creatures of habit. Stubborn or open, our habits are learned and practiced manners of thinking, acting and living. A heart is stubborn only by pride or fear, pride that we know better than God and others or fear that we may lose who we are by changing our ways. But that is not what Jesus taught, "If you would be my disciple, (pause) deny yourself, (pause) take up your cross and follow me," (Luke 9:23). We did not self-conceive ourselves and our first debt in justice is due God, our Creator and Father. Compare God's Sermon on Mount Sinai with Christ's Sermon on the Mount ( named the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel). On both mountains, God the Father and God the Son had to explain in detail our denial of the commandments which were imbued in our original nature before the Fall and which were then self-evident and are self-evident when we deny disordered nature and live in communion with God and others. The commandments of God are imbedded in our human nature as "love your neighbor as yourself" because we are members of the new Adam in the body of Christ and "Son of Man" as Jesus described himself. All our 'bad habits' and sins are centered on the denial of others including God which Psalm 82 elaborates and which you will find in these pages from last February 17th, my Reflection on Psalm 82.* Here are the last stanzas of the Psalm which describe the people of Israel wandering in the darkness of their minds:

The gods neither know nor understand,
wandering about in darkness,
and all the world's foundations shake.
I declare: "Gods though you be,
offspring of the Most High all of you,
Yet like any mortal you shall die;
like any prince you shall fall."
Arise, O God, judge the earth,
for yours are all the nations.