18 July, Monday of Week 16

Exod 14:5ff. When Pharaoh pursues the Israelites, to force them to return, they complain to Moses: “better to be slaves in Egypt than corpses in the desert.”

Matt 10:38ff. The Ninevites and the foreign queen responded better to God’s message, than did his own people to Jesus.

Trust and Anxiety

How few of us are willing to really trust in God. We are like the Israelites, who after their release from Egypt were still fearful that God would abandon them in the desert. Unless they could see immediate solutions that did away with all risk, the people complained and put this bitter question to Moses: “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert?” Unless people are determined not to endure slavery under any form, they will not take the risks of faith.

We instinctively know that risks are an ingredient in life. Unless spouses take the risk of commitment “for better or for worse” sooner or later will fail in fidelity to one another. At crucial times in life, we must summon our faith that God does care when his people are in trouble. The Bible challenges us to sustain that spirit of hopeful faith, even if the fulfillment of our hope is long delayed.

God pleads with his people through the prophet Micah: “What have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me!” – lines that inspire the poignant or “Reproaches” of the Good Friday liturgy. After the unveiling of the cross, the choir sings: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me. For forty years I led you safely through the desert. I fed you with manna from heaven,… But you led your Saviour to the cross and gave me vinegar to drink.”

Micah, also advises us on the answer to this reproach. Negatively, he states what God does not want: Not holocausts, nor thousands of sacrificial lambs – for none of these externals can replace the interior attitudes of the soul. Then, positively, he declares what the Lord really require of us: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

With these priorities in his heart, how disappointed Jesus was when some demanded to see miracles, instead of listening to his words about our relationship with God. He had already shown an ministry of kindness and concern, but these people wanted more than the cure of a poor cripple or the blessed wisdom of being poor in spirit or pure of heart. He then reminds them about Jonah and how many Ninevites were converted by his preaching; and about the Queen of the South’s admiration for the wisdom of Solomon. These foreigners, even the worst of them, the Ninevites, repented and were converted – “and you have a greater than Solomon here.”

Unless we take the risk of being generous towards others, no miracle will prove anything to us. Then too, Jesus points to the sign of Jonah, “three days and three nights in the belly of the whale.” We too must risk going the depths and letting ourselves be as it were “swallowed up” by the will of God and taken to wherever God brings us, as happened to Jonah. Then we will experience the sweet reward of faith, after long fidelity.

First Reading: Exodus 14:5-18

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pihahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

Gospel: Matthew 12:38-42

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

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