Tuesday, April 12, 2011

“Patience cures many an old complaint”

“The problem is not that there are problems. The problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.“

(Nm 21:4-9)
From Mount Hor the children of Israel set out on the Red Sea road,
to bypass the land of Edom .
But with their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
“Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert,
where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents,
which bit the people so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
“We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses,
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.”
Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole,
and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent
looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

As I begin this reflection, bombs are falling on Libya and radiation is making its way across the north of Japan . These are all grounds for complaints: “When will winter end?” “Who will save us from this situation?” “What have we done to deserve this?” Both nature and man throw deadly bolts of destruction which disrupt life’s patterns. In the first reading the Israelites crossing the desert complained about the quality of food and drink and travel conditions. In today's gospel (John 8:21-30) both the people and the disciples were confused about Jesus’ fate. They did not understand what he was saying and challenged/queried him about his intentions. In these responses human nature is at play.

In day to day living we all complain about something—some small and some significant. Our complaints are quiet and personal or quite loud and public. In today’s readings the complaints are the latter, loud and public. We complain about persons, places and things—all quite human. Today’s readings focus on the peoples’ discontent with God and with the actions of God in the person of Jesus. This is a complaint of a different texture than our grumblings about the weather, a sports team, a meal, parking, politicians or even the in-laws!

In this fifth week of Lent you might reflect a bit and then ask yourself the question: do you have any complaints about God? Any resentment towards God? Any old unhealed wounds in your relationship with God? Do you grumble under your breath about God’s fairness or God’s mercy or God’s forgiveness? Are you agitated by God’s apparent generosity to others? Are you unmoved by the plight of those in great need of God’s justice? Are you close to imitating the disposition of the Israelites in the desert – unappreciative of what God is doing for you; doubting God’s care for His people? Or is your complaint more like the stubborn lack of understanding of the Pharisees in refusing to believe that Jesus was the son of God and on a mission from his father?

The timing is right for this exercise because we are nearing the cusp of Holy Week when “the Son of Man will be lifted up.” As the Lord said to Moses in the first reading: “Make a seraph and mount it on a poll and whoever looks at it will live.” How much more life saving and life giving is the crucified Jesus when He is lifted up on Good Friday as our Savior and Lord!

Surface your complaints about God, your resentments toward God and make the words of today’s psalm your words: “O Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come to you. Hide not your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; in the day when I call, answer me speedily.”

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