Is God with us or not?

Tom Bartolomeo
29th Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Exodus 17: 8-13; Psalm 121;
2 Timothy 3: 14-4:2; Luke 18: 1-8
Reproduced with Permission

"Is God with us or not?" I'm not the first one to repeat the question? The Jews with Moses in the desert had asked this many times or acted as if there were no God. They asked the question before the passage you heard in the Book of Exodus, Moses raising his hands high until the battle with Amalek was won. Had you not known this detail, how the Jews questioned God's presence among them, then the reading you heard would be meaningless. (Exodus 17: 7-13). What significance would it have had - had Moses not raised his hands during the battle? That would not have been an issue with the Apostle Paul in his Letter to Timothy we also heard today. Paul's disciples had studied and understood Sacred Scripture:

what you have learned and believed . . . from infancy [he told them] . . . sacred Scriptures . . . are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture [ he continued ] is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3: 14-4: 2).

Before their conversion the Jews routinely discussed Sacred Scripture in their synagogues and homes, practically memorized the Old Testament including the passage from the Book of Exodus which we heard today. They knew why they had suffered much because of their ancestors' misconduct in the desert, a clear warning they took to heart - how God and Moses had led them away from the "fleshpots" of Egypt (Exodus 16: 3) to the land God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They understood clearly the significance of the passage you just heard in Exodus. Do we? You may wrongly think that I will fill in the blanks for you, and that would be enough. You would be wrong. My personal sentiments are mine, not yours.

If we think that Amalek was defeated by Moses simply by raising his hands during the battle - then it is not worth our consideration. If all we hear week after week at Mass are curious old stories no wonder many of our former brothers and sisters no longer call themselves Catholic or worship with us. If we think Sacred Scripture is just a boring chronicle of strange events than I, too, would not worship with you. Is the story of Moses and the Jews in the desert by Saint Paul's account, "useful for teaching" [us], for refuting us, for correcting us, and for training us in holiness, "so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work" or not?

There is no story more repeated in Sacred Scripture than the departure of the Jews from their stubborn vices recorded in the Books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The chosen people of God had spent 430 years in a heathen country enslaved much of the time by the Pharaoh, the most powerful king in the world at the time. Finally, through God's intervention the prophet Moses and the Jews escaped Pharaoh's clutches when the angel of death took the lives of every first born child and animal in Egypt passing over the Jews which heralded the Passover feast of Easter which we celebrate. Their journey from Egypt to God's "promised land of milk and honey" originally took a year to make when many of the Jews had rebelled for the last time. Throughout their journey many of them had incessantly complained to Moses about their lack of water and food although they were always provided for. They said that they would rather be back in Egypt as slaves and enjoy the "fleshpots" of their captors than suffer in the desert. The battle scene you heard was the first trial they would face, but without Moses' faith, God's true servant, they would have all died in that desert and have been forgotten by history. God, however, would honor his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob although many of their heirs and many of us do not honor God's covenant. We may not be faithful but God is "always faithful".

(Deuteronomy 7; 6). Faithful to the extent that no matter how difficult God will save or condemn us as we decide, choosing either God's way or our way. When Moses had sent scouts to survey the promised land after reaching their destination the majority of the scouts came back forty days later claiming that they could not and would not enter the promised land. The inhabitants living there, they said, were too ferocious and too well fortified to overcome. God then intervened "in anger" and told them through Moses that for each day they had reconnoitered the promised land they would spend another year wandering in the desert. (Numbers 14: 24-37). God did not forget their snarly complaint before their battle with Amalek, "Is God with us or not?", although God had vanquished their enemy, Amalek, and had eradicated his memory from all of human history. God does not chastise us for nothing but for our instruction, "for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work." Why we need to continuously read Sacred Scripture. Who among us thinks he can ignore Sacred Scripture, the Word of God, and save himself, his family and his children?

The chosen people, our forebears, spent forty years in the desert for two generations. Nearly all of the first generation of Jews died in the desert, many in rebellion. Their children survived who suffered little or no contagion in Egypt and grew up to be better men and women than their parents, instructed in Mosaic law and trained as warriors. We should never forget that we are called to be warriors for Christ as Jesus was for us, whom the father of John the Baptist foretold that his son would be a disciple of Jesus Christ:

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant. (Luke 1: 68-71)

We have more than Moses to teach and lead us. We have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Sacred Scripture. Heaven awaits only those who would be inspired by Sacred Scripture and be warriors for God.