Are we really that different from the Israelites?
When we read the accounts of the Hebrews wandering for forty years through the desert, we see a picture of ourselves. We see the story of the human family played out before us. And, in contrast, we see the true nature of God displayed over and over again for all to see. And we are humbled by this God who is slow to anger, whose love is infinite, and whose forgiveness is greater than all of our rebellions.
Really, is there any difference between us and the Hebrews that Moses and Aaron were leading out of slavery and into the Promised Land with the obvious aid of God? The evidence of God’s love and mercy was there before the people on ever so many occasions. They saw the waters of the Red Sea part. They walked through it on dry land. They saw it fall back over the pursuing Egyptian army, destroying their might in one fell swoop. At another time, they were on the verge of dying from hunger and thirst and they complained bitterly against God and Moses, but the Lord forgave them and responded by sending them countless quails in the evening and heavy dews that dried into manna to eat in the mornings. On yet another occasion, in their weakness and impatience, they could not even wait for Moses to come down off of Mount Sinai, and demanded that a golden calf be made that they could worship. But God forgave them again, hearing Moses’ prayers. Just before today’s verse they are rising up in rebellion again. They are ready to stone Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. They want to pick their own leaders and head back to Egypt. But the Lord’s response again, shows his patience (his slowness to anger) and his abounding love and forgiveness.
But there is another important truth revealed in the text too. That is, the choices that we make through our God-given gift of free will also have their unavoidable consequences, good or bad. In the second part of verse 18 Moses tells us: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” Then, Moses appeals to God on the people’s behalf once again, saying to the Lord, “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” (verse 19) To which the Lord replies, “I have forgiven them as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times–not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who had treated me with contempt will see it.” (verses 20-23)
We should see ourselves in this story as well. For, if we are honest with ourselves, there are times when we disobey and test the patience and the abounding love of God. All too often, when life gets a little tough for us, we start blaming everybody, even God, for our sufferings. But rarely do we see ourselves as the problem, either in whole or in part. We are chronic complainers. Yet, we too have seen the patience and the love and the forgiveness of God. Unlike the Hebrews following Moses through the desert, we have seen God in the face. In Jesus we have heard his voice speaking to us in the flesh. We have felt his touch, We have looked into his eyes. We have seen the very depths of his love and forgiveness for us suspended in unimaginable agony on the cross. Yet, we still have our free wills, and we are still capable of rebellion. God’s love is real. It is manifest in his patience with us, in his willingness to forgive us over and over again, but he also requires our sorrow, our repentance, our penance, and our freely chosen, willing desire to keep getting back onto the narrow path. God knows our hearts. Let us, then, trust his love and affection for us. It is all around us.
Lord, open our eyes to see your presence in all things. Open our hearts to receive your love and your forgiveness joyfully. In your generosity, give us the grace of humility, so that we may not only see your will for us, but that we may choose more regularly to live it out happily in our daily lives. We pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen!
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