Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday in the 15th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
The Way of Repentance

Readings: Exodus 2:1-15a; Psalm 69:3, 14, 30-31, 33-34; Mathew 11:20-24

We all know what a towering figure Moses will become, what a prominent role he will play, not just in the history of the Hebrew people, but also in the whole history of salvation. We know he is the one God will appoint to free his people from slavery in Egypt. We know he will hear God’s voice whilst in exile in Midian. But in order for all that to happen, he must first enter the wilderness. And today we see both why and how he is led there. The flight of Moses is prompted by a question that he cannot yet answer in a satisfactory manner: who appointed you? It’s a valid question, one that shakes Moses up. For although he seems to enjoy a privileged status in the royal court, Moses’ attempt to help his fellow Hebrews backfires on him.

Indeed, the first reading offers us a very stark contrast between his actions and the actions of the women who figured prominently at his birth. We notice how the latter are prompted primarily by love and compassion. His mother cannot bear to have him put to death, and so she places him among the reeds at the river’s edge. And his sister watches over him. Pharaoh’s daughter feels sorry for him, even though she knows he is a male child of the Hebrews, one who is marked for death. She rescues him and arranges for him to be cared for. The compassion and resourcefulness of these women illustrate for us how hearts of flesh can draw life out of the waters of death.

In contrast, the sight of his people being ill-treated leads Moses to strike out in anger against their tormentors. But this does little to help the situation. Instead, the cycle of violence and death is perpetuated. Pharaoh, whose daughter had treated Moses like a son, now wants to kill him. Isn’t this the result of the actions of a hardened heart, a heart of stone? Isn’t this why Moses must flee? Not just to avoid capital punishment, but also to escape the death that results from a hardened heart, the death that is the consequence of sin. Moses flees. And in his flight we see the beginnings of repentance. Moses sets out on a road that will transform his heart from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.

And isn’t this the very same road that Jesus reproaches the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for refusing to travel? What the miracles of Jesus fail to do for those towns, the question of a fellow Hebrew does for Moses: who appointed you? It leads him out into the wilderness, but only so that God can find him, give him his appointment, and send him back into Egypt to do what needs to be done. As his mother did for him at his birth, his brother's question leads him once more into the wild waters of rebirth so that God might again draw him out into newness of life, not just for him but for all the people.

Sisters and brothers, who appointed us to do all that we will do today? How many of our actions will spring from a heart of flesh? How many from a heart of stone? How are we being invited to repent today?

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