Tag Archives: Exodus

God of Tents, Clouds and Fire

On their journey through the desert they set up a meeting tent:

“Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses.
On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and worship at the entrance of their own tents. The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

The tent, the cloud, the pillar of fire were signs of God’s dynamic presence, a presence not fixed, but leading them to another place. The Exodus story is a story of God’s presence leading humanity on.

God leads them to a place they don’t know. God’s not a wall making them safe and settled; God’s on the move, and God moves them on.

In his book “The Mystery of the Temple” the theologian Yves Congar, OP, says we need these “long” Old Testament stories to remind us of the dynamic presence of a God of tents who is a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

God is our guide, the only map we have, who moves each of us and all of history to a new stage. “We are always tempted to confine ourselves to what we see and touch, to be satisfied with this and to think that a preliminary achievement fulfills God’s promise, ” Congar writes.

“Abraham thought God’s promise was fulfilled in Ismael, Joshua thought it was the conquest of Canaan. Solomon thought it was in his immediate descendants…”but these promises were capable of more complete fulfillment which would only materialize after long periods of waiting and urgently needed purification. Only the prophets–and this, in fact, is their task–draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises and to the progress of the latter towards their accomplishment through successive stages of fulfillment continuously transcending one another.” (p 31-32)

We may think it’s the end, but it’s only a beginning.

Finally, God speaks most familiarly with Moses in the desert, a place of homelessness and unease, the Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

Will that be true for us too? Does God speak most familiarly with us when we’re in the desert, not sure where life is heading?

The Temptations of Jesus

As supreme ruler in China from 1949-1976  Mao Zedong began the practice of sending young recruits for the Communist party on what was called the  “Long March.”  They retraced the 8,000 miles that Mao and his army took in 1935 through some of the toughest parts of western China to evade their enemies and eventually become the fighting force that conquered China. The recruits were expected to learn from people like Mao and his soldiers who made that difficult journey what made you into a good Communist.

Lent is our “Long March.”  For 40 days, we retrace the 40 years the Israelites journeyed through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land and the great journey that Jesus Christ took to his death and resurrection.

This Sunday we begin that journey with Jesus in the desert after his baptism where he is tempted by the devil. Mark’s gospel describes it succinctly:

“The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,

and he remained in the desert for forty days,

tempted by Satan.

He was among wild beasts,

and the angels ministered to him.”

The experience of Jesus in the desert mirrors his experience in his life. At his baptism, God calls him his “Beloved Son” and tells us to “listen to him.” He is the Messiah, sent by God to save his people. But in the desert he is tempted by Satan to be a Messiah of another kind.

In his recent reflection on Lent, Pope Benedict said that in the desert Satan “offers Jesus another messianic way, far from God’s plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is an alternative messianism of power, of success, not the messianism of gift and selfless love.”

Matthew and Luke’s gospels speak more than Mark’s gospel does about the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Jesus is hungry; “Turn these stones into bread,” Satan says. You’re above the ordinary laws of life.  From a mountain, Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. “Here’s political power,” Satan says. From the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, Satan says “Throw yourself down; you can have religious power.”

Mark’s gospel goes on from his account, saying simply:

“After John had been arrested,

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:

“This is the time of fulfillment.

The kingdom of God is at hand.

Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”

Instead of Satan’s suggestion, Jesus follows John the Baptist and the way of the prophets. He goes to Galilee, not Jerusalem, and proclaims the gospel of God.

Jesus’ ministry in Galilee has all the ambivalence of the journey of the Jews in the desert. He’s a sign of God’s presence. Like a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night he teaches in the synagogues and along the seashore in Galilee.  He gives manna to the hungry and strengthens the poor and heals the sick. He pitches his tent among them and makes his home with them.

But he finds murmuring and rejection there too. You can hear it in the constant questions and doubts that he faces. Demons cry out against him. Finally, going up to Jerusalem, Jesus faces death; he becomes the sacrifice that saves his people from their sins. As he did in the desert, Jesus accepts his role as the Servant of God in his life–he “ renounces himself and lives for others and places himself among sinners, to take upon himself the sins of the world. “ (Benedict XVI)

So what do we learn from Jesus on our long march of 40 days? Our great temptations will be like his. We like to control things, we like the world to be on our side; we like to control God. His great wish was “ your will be done, your kingdom come.” Our temptation is “my will, my kingdom come.”

Our world is a lot like his. We wish God were more visible, not hidden in signs or limited to believing eyes. We wish for a world more supportive of good values, not a desert where Satan’s voice is strong and wild beasts roam.

This Lent we make the Long March with Jesus Christ who is with us today and all days. He has pitched his tent with us. We’ll have manna to eat and rocks will give water for our thirst. A fire goes before us in darkness and a pillar of cloud marks our path in the day. Angels still minister to us.

Praying with Christ

The great background theme playing through our Lenten days is the story of the Exodus. Like the children of Israel guided by Moses, we go forward on our desert journey guided by Jesus Christ.

His presence with us is greater than the presence of Moses among the Israelites, however. Like branches on the vine he gathers us to himself.

He is with us when we pray, weak and stumbling as our prayer may be. Remember his presence in prayer, St. Cyprian says in today’s reading.  “Let the Son who lives in our hearts, be also on our lips.”

He’s speaking of the Lord’s Prayer, given to us by Jesus. “To ask the Father in words his Son has given us, to let him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in his ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer.  Let the Father recognize the words of his Son.”

The Lord’s Prayer is not just a prayer to be said by rote; it’s a “pattern of prayer,” according to the saint. We learn how to pray by considering its words and making them our own. See: http://www.cptryon.org/prayer/teach.html

We recognize the place of Christ in liturgical prayer when we end them with the words, “Though Jesus Christ, your Son…”  It’s important to recognize the presence of Jesus as we pray privately and rely on him.

When the disciples were asleep in the Garden of Gethsemani, Jesus prayed a stone’s throw away and his prayer not only strengthened him but strengthened them as well.