19 Pentecost, September 30
“The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat. We remember the fish we used to ezat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’” (Num. 11:4-6). God fed the people, but not with the foods apportioned to them by their former slave masters. Manna was the daily diet of freedom, and freedom is a daily risk and hope. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
The people turned against Moses and Moses turned toward God with a bitter and open complaint. “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all the people on me? Did I conceive all this people? … I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once” (Num. 11:11-15).
Moses spoke to God in a manner we never employ in our churches. To be sure, we recite and sing the words of Scripture, but the appointed liturgical prayers, in part because of their beauty, trim away the most bitter of human emotions, the most distressing of cries against God. But Jesus, the Son of the Father, speaks in just this way: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Is Jesus the answer to Moses’ prayer, the man who is put to death at once, the man who dies once for all?
Before this becomes a story about the dispersion of authority among the 70 elders, it is first the confession of a craving people and their embittered leader. It is an honest and open display of deeply disturbing feelings, unvarnished and without sanctimonious cover. Such speech erupts repeatedly in Scripture because the God of the Old and New Testament can very well take and absorb the full impact of human pain and frustration and bitterness. More such honesty in our spiritual lives would do us good, would allow a more open access to all the graces God would give. We may cry and groan and crave. God knows. In a sense, as St. Paul tells us, this is all a part of the deepest mystical prayer: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
Creation itself is a wordless prayer. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we await for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23).
Jesus invites us to his cross. He tells us to cut off a hand, cut off a foot, and tear out an eye. He says we will be salted with fire. The road to life is narrow and long. We are stripped naked for baptism, and we are stripped each day of the old humanity, casting aside everything that impeded life in Christ. This is a form of dying, and real and present living. The soul revives, and the heart rejoices, and eyes are filled with light, and life is honey-sweet at just the moment when we know that the old Adam is dead (Ps. 19:7-10).
Learn to speak and pray from the deepest places.
Look It Up
Read James 5:13-16.
Think About It
Suffering, sick, and sinful. Be honest, even about bitterness.