“Never since has there been a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Loved by God in this unusual way, Moses lived a long life of 120 years, and, until the moment of his death, his sight remained clear and his vigor unabated.
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Still, a sadness pervades the report of his departure from this life. Moses looked over the land of promise. “Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh. All the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far Zoar” (Deut. 34:1-3). Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there” (Deut. 34:4). “Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command” (Deut. 34:5). Finally, his life was given to the silence of death.
Moses did not enter the promised land. He did not realize the fruit of his labor, though he did not labor in vain. Strangely, Moses’s death is a promise about the future, a hope that a good work begun may be entrusted to others. Even the friend of God must die as the Lord commands. “You turn us back to the dust and say, ‘Go back, O child of earth.’ For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past and like a watch in the night. You sweep us away like a dream; we fade away suddenly like the grass. In the morning it is green and flourishes; in the evening it is dried up and withered” (Ps. 90:3-6). Moses lived his vocation until his appointed death, leaving the hope of the future to Joshua upon whom Moses had laid his hands.
Vocation and death belong together. We must do something as called by God and pursue it with the awareness that we do not have forever. And we ought to make provision for the future and trust in those to follow. What are we to do? We discern a specific vocation primarily by assessing our strengths and skills in relation to the common good. More broadly, however, there is a vocation we all share, and we hear it from the mouth of Jesus.
“One of the [Pharisees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” (Matt 22:35-40)
Every day and every year, until the hour of death, is given to this vocation. We are called to love God wholly and to serve and love our neighbors. The second of the two great commandments is a test of the first. “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brother and sisters also” (I John 4:21). The love of one’s neighbor, although a common vocation, will differ according to circumstances: the scope of one’s responsibilities, the people with whom a common life is shared, one’s employment in the world.
The two great commandments are a life’s work and one which is passed from one generation to the next.
Look It Up: I John 4:19
Think About It: There is a landscape of promise you will not enter. Labor in love all the same and trust in the future.