Have you ever felt like someone put you in a box and wouldn’t let you out?
Or maybe we’ve done that to someone else? Or to a group of people?
We even have a saying that describes that reality – “I’ve got you pegged.”
Last Wednesday the Bible study group that gathers at Lincoln Towers read chapter 20 in Numbers where Moses and Aaron are told that their lack of faith just evidenced will prevent them from entering the Promised Land. It took us a long time searching the text to figure out what they had done to bring forth such a harsh response from God. We actually discovered two things, but I think at root they are the same thing.
The Israelites, freed from Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt, whine a lot. We have read enough of their whiny passages that one of the Bible study attendees said, “Here they go again.” And much of their whining in chapter 20 is the same as previous times, except this time there is also a true fearful reality. There is no water where they find themselves, and as we know, we need water to live, and so, this time their complaining is real. They will die with no water source. Moses, however, had the people pegged (as did we readers) – “Here they go again – whining because things aren’t how they want them to be.”
Thinking in human terms, we would probably side with Moses and say, “Well, they’ve cried wolf one too many times; Moses and Aaron are understandably fed up,” but in divine terms to predetermine who a person or a people is, to allow the past to determine the future is to deny that God can do a new thing – that people can indeed be transformed.
Moses not only has stopped listening deeply to the people and their needs, but he also has stopped listening to God. He’s in a been-there, done-that mode. Once before God had told him to pick up a rod and strike a rock with it to bring forth water to quench the people’s thirst; Moses presumes he knows the drill and he’s supposed to do the same thing; so, he hits a rock until water gushes forth. However, God after inviting Moses to pick up a rod, had told him to speak to the rock.
As he had decided he had the people pegged, Moses decided he also had God pegged. The result? what he had decided for others and for God became the truth of his own life. The future did not open up for Moses in a new way – the past became his present and his future. I guess that means that when we try to limit and define God and other people we end up limiting and defining ourselves.
God seems harsh in this passage, but actually, God was only speaking aloud the choices Moses had already made.
The story of course, doesn’t end here because we follow a God who continually opens up the future to new life – who sends Jesus and beckons us to follow this one of whom no one can say, “I’ve got you pegged.” He is always doing a new thing and inviting us to participate in it.
So, maybe this Lent we can listen anew to our God and listen afresh to our neighbors and discover what new thing God is doing in our and our neighbors’ midst.
On Ash Wednesday there will be a bilingual prayer service at 4:30, followed by a community pot-luck dinner at 6, and a traditional Ash Wednesday worship service at 7.
During subsequent Wednesdays in Lent we will have a vespers service at 7 p.