22 March. Thursday of Week 4 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. If John the Baptist was a shining lamp, Jesus throws even more light upon our way to God.

Winning Hearts, Not Arguments

These readings centre around complaints and criticism, a very human reaction to many an event. God points out to Moses how stiff-necked are the people of Israel, how unwilling they are to be led! In fact the Lord wants to give them up and start a new nation, through Moses and his sons. “I will make you a great nation.”

The question arises: is Moses projecting his own frustration into the mind of God? He had hesitated at other times, especially when he balked at striking the rock for water (Num 20:6b-13). If Moses is confusing his own temptation with God’s, then how well he is mirroring ourselves. Like Moses we too can imagine that our temptation to quit is an expression of God’s holy will!

In the footsteps of Moses, Jesus too had continuously to face the arguments of his critics. Even though he had just helped a man lame for many years to walk, they carped at him. Both Jesus and the early church patiently “sat down” and carefully explained the reasons for his actions. This response comes from his compassion and genuine love. Jesus appealed to their 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 a lively discussion or 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, and any subsequent reappraisal should be undertaken in God’s presence.

Interior conviction, sustained by our consciousness of letting ourselves be directed by the Lord, will eventually win the day. This attitude of serenity enables us to persevere and lessens the temptation to quit. And so our faith community will eventually, perhaps after long delay as in Moses’ case, cross the river Jordan and enter the promised land. We do not seek to win an argument but to be 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?”

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