Thursday in the Fourth Week of Lent
Exodus 32:7ff. Though his people are so stiff-necked and stubborn, Moses begs God to forgive and give them another chance.
John 5:31ff. Although John the Baptist was like a shining lamp, Jesus throws even more light upon our way to God.
Winning Hearts, Not Arguments
These readings center around complaints and responses. Since criticism is a very human reaction, we should all feel very much at home! God complains to Moses about the people of Israel: how stiff-necked they were! He wants to quit this stubborn mob and start a new chosen nation in Moses and his sons, with the promise, “I will make you a great nation.”
The question naturally arises: is Moses projecting onto the mind of God his own irritation with the stubborn people? If Moses is confusing his own temptation with God’s, then we have a true brother in him, for like Moses we, too, imagine at times that our temptation to quit is actually an expression of God’s holy will!
A major temptation of all leaders, and indeed of each one of us because of our unique gifts, is to run ahead of our community or church, and leave them behind. We feel that it is God’s will to leave behind the slow, dull, sinful lot of other people, so that we can be true to our conscience, full in expressing our hopes, at peace with our ideals. Such a temptation is very human, but to give in to it not only separates us from our community or church but it also pulls us away from Moses and Jesus.
Jesus in the footsteps of Moses and the prophets, argued seriously and continuously, even though he had just helped a man lame for so many years to walk. Surely, if one of us had displayed such divine power out of compassion for the handicapped, we would hardly be in the mood to enter a long discussion – about the legal niceties of our actions (did we follow all the health and safety procedures?)
Both Jesus and the early church patiently sat down and carefully worked through the various reasons why things were done. This response is not to be attributed to condescension but to compassion and genuine love. Jesus appealed to the recent experience of John the Baptist, again to his own miracles as works of his heavenly Father, to the interior presence of God the Father within the mind of each person, and to the Scriptures.
We must decide, during any lively argument, which approach is best. Perhaps, the least probative and argumentative, the weakest in the face of opposition, yet the most genuine and in the long run the most powerful reason is found in God’s hidden presence, his silent testimony on our behalf. Our first decision, our consequent action, our present reappraisal should be undertaken in God’s presence. As Jeremiah expressed it: I have “stood in the council of the Lord to see and hear his word” (Jer 23:18).
Inner conviction, sustained by a consciousness of living with God and of being directed by the Lord, will eventually overcome all opposition and win the argument. This attitude of serenity enables us to persevere and thus remove the temptation to quit and so to enable this community eventually, perhaps in the next generation as in Moses’ case, to cross the river Jordan and enter the promised land. We do not seek to win an argument but a people for God.
First Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
Gospel: John 5:31-47
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that his testimony to me is true. You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”