3rd Sunday of Lent
…they put the Lord to the test by saying, ‘Is the Lord with us, or not?’
Isn’t the grumbling of the Israelites against Moses, and chiefly against God, something so familiar today? Grumbling is a rather universal response of having to grow up – being made to do things against your will, things of inconvenience or difficulty that may or may not actually really be good for you. The only way to know is to stick around and overcome the challenges in order to grow in maturity and humility.
In our daily lives, we grumble about many things – the trains repeatedly breaking down at rush hour, water price surges, a delayed bus, being waylaid by a boss’ last minute work request. These complaints might come across as ungrateful when compared to the tormenting thirst and desert wilderness of the wandering Israelites. Yet, the Exodus reading today tells us the Israelites had committed the sin of putting God to the test. I could not understand this until I read a few chapters back to where they had just come from – a narrow escape from generations of slavery in Egypt!
God had led them through the Red Sea. He provided them with twelve springs and seventy palm trees in the land of Elim (Exodus 15), and the abundant ‘rain’ of manna and quail in the Desert of Sin (Exodus 16). Every time the Israelites faced a season of drought or famine, they grumbled and whined that Moses should have left them in the land of Egypt, where at least they had their fill of food and water. Each time, Moses had turned to God and He had mercifully provided for more than the present needs of these pilgrim-wanderers. Yet, we witness another tirade of doubting the Lord!
The questions the Israelites posed, essentially taunting Moses with “Is the Lord with us, or not?” is probably rhetorical at that time of their impatience and arrogance. I cannot help but sense sarcasm too – “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Was it so that I should die of thirst, my children too, and my cattle?”
Each chapter of their desert exile was a story of deliverance out of suffering and doubt. Yet, they habitually forgot to remember the immense goodness of God. I am not so different today, sitting at my desk and reflecting on these scriptures. It is so very easy to harden my heart to God’s voice. Though each season of my own faith challenges, a fork in life’s path or trials at work might look different from the past, God’s love and saving grace never changes. The problem I’ve realized here is that sometimes, my “Are you there, God? – It’s me, Margaret” question isn’t asked in humility; but in defiance, entitlement, even demand. In short — such flawed arrogance.
This is vastly different from the question and attitude in which the Samaritan woman asked Jesus: “Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and cattle?” She asks in order to listen, to understand, and to wait upon Jesus’ answer. God has clearly continued to provide for and deliver the descendants of the Israelites and Samaritans alike, including taking care of what they need for food and drink (c.f. Matt 5:45; 6: 24-34).
In my Lenten journey a few years ago, I felt challenged to grow up in humility and patience to discover the depth of purpose God had for me when I was made to wait, struggle, feel inadequate, experience loneliness, lose my motivation, endure hopeless circles of confusion in my work. Brothers and sisters, if we listen well – and we want to listen humbly – we can hear Him whisper: I am always with you. This desert can still be everything good for me because I have Jesus here.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Lord, I pray for your grace to open my heart and spirit to the enduring truth and evidence of your goodness for me. Help me to listen and remember.
Thanksgiving: Thank you for never hardening your heart to me, even as I have often hardened mine to you.
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