Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15; I Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12; Psalm 103; Luke 13:1-9
Both in Scripture and in Orthodox iconography Moses is known as the Friend of God. In our first lesson from the Book of Exodus we heard about Moses’ meeting God in the burning bush, and being commissioned by God to lead his people out of captivity in Egypt. With great difficulty and set backs Moses did this, but, because he had disobeyed God, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. In fact, an entire generation of Israelites had to die in the desert before the people were allowed to cross the Jordan River. St. Paul writes of this in the second lesson from 1st Corinthians, “Our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; by the cloud and the sea all of them were baptized into Moses. All ate the same spiritual food. All drank the same spiritual drink…, yet we know that God was not pleased with most of them, for ‘they were struck down in the desert.’” So Moses, the Friend of God, and a whole generation of the Chosen people were considered by God as unworthy to enter the Land of Canaan. Why? According to St. Paul, “These things happened to keep us from wicked desires such as theirs. Nor are you to grumble as some of them did, to be killed by the destroying angel...let anyone who thinks he is standing upright watch out lest he fall!”
Having just read the story of the Exodus in our daily Bible reading, we are all familiar with how the Israelites behaved on their journey. First, Moses was on the mountain too long so they made a golden calf to worship, then they were hungry, so God sent manna, then they were tired of the manna, so God sent quail, then they were thirsty so God gave them “water from the rock”, and all the while guiding them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. And they responded by grumbling and complaining and moaning that they were better off as slaves in Egypt, and Moses had brought them out to die in the desert. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see in this a mirror of our own attitudes. How often are our prayers filled with, “Lord, change this,” or “Lord, heal that,” or “Lord, fix those.” We concentrate all our energy on what we perceive as wrong in our lives that we have no attention left over for praise, thanksgiving and counting our blessings. All the time we are asking God to just DO something, he is already doing too many things to count. If we are here, then we are alive, and it is God who is holding us in life, all of us here have also received the inestimable gift of membership in the Body of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we also have food, a home, a family, the freedom to worship as we choose, access to unlimited knowledge, and, at the moment, peace in which to live our lives without fear. Compared to the infinite outpouring of blessing we receive every day, what we think we need and don’t have is very small, and often, just a matter of perspective. And God pours out these blessings on everyone, not just the righteous, not just those who we would describe as good. The opposite is also true, that disasters and tragedies happen to everyone.
In the Gospel lesson from St. Luke, Our Lord says, “Do you think that these Galileans were the greatest sinners in Galilee just because they suffered this? By no means! But I tell you, you will come to the same end unless you reform. Or take those eighteen who were killed by a falling tower in Siloam. Do you think they were more guilty than anyone else who lived in Jerusalem? Certainly not! But I tell you, you will come to the same end unless you begin to reform.” Jesus is rejecting the argument that these people died as a result of God’s judgment because they were sinners, and uses these events as an analogy of the eternal death that will come to those who refuse to reform their lives. What happens to us in this life, whether perceived as good or bad, does not reflect our eternal destiny, our relationship with God, it merely reflects the current condition of our life in this fallen world. What does reflect our relationship with God is how we respond to what happens in our lives. Our Lord calls on his hearers to reform, which means to repent, which may mean changing our behavior, but more importantly and more often it means changing our attitude, our perspective. We have to get out of the narrow, self-centered attitude that something is good or bad because in this present moment it causes us either pleasure or pain. We have to step back and look at the bigger picture of living a life in God’s grace, in trust and reliance on God’s providence. In the parable of the fig tree, the gardener says, “Sir, leave it…while I hoe around it and manure it; then perhaps it will bear fruit. If not, it shall be cut down.” The events and conditions of this life are the manure, which, hoed in properly, utilized in God’s grace, will allow us to be fruitful in the Kingdom. If, instead, we respond, as the Israelites did in the desert, with disordered passions, then, as they were, we will be cut down.
An attitude, a perspective, of repentance allows us to trust in God’s benevolence, to act in the belief that everything that happens in our life can, if we approach it in this way, bring us closer to him, further us in our Theosis. But how do we actually do this? There are a couple of key attitudes that all the rest flows from: First, never cling to the assumption that we are absolutely in the right in any conflict, and second, never respond in anger toward anyone, for any reason. This is the essence of humility, and is also an expression of unconditional love. This is what St. Paul calls, “being subject one to another.” How can we serve and love someone if our attitude toward them is one of angry superiority? Or even angry inferiority?
Overarching these two key principles is this: Living a Eucharistic life. That means, in everything give thanks, IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS. Whatever is happening, thank God for it, approach it in faith, hope, trust and love, and leave the consequences to God. Rest in the belief that God really does know what he is doing, not just in the universe, but in our life right here and now, today and every day. Don’t try to second guess, outsmart or get around what God is doing; humbly accept, give thanks, give praise, keep calm and carry on.
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