Vision Loss

Desert MoonExodus 17:1-7

From the Moon Desert, all the Israelites traveled in fits and starts as God led them. When they came to a place where they could spread out, they stopped there. But there was no drinking water. So the people started griping at Moses saying, “Give us drinking water.”

Moses said, “Why are you griping at me? Why are you always accusing God?”

But the insatiable people kept on griping: “Why did you bring us here from Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock by thirst?”

So Moses asked God, “Now what? These people are going to stone me.”

So God said, “Take some of their leaders and go on a little farther. And take your staff with you, the one you used to strike the Nile River. I’ll wait for you on the rock by the ruin. When you get there, strike the rock with your staff, and it’ll crack open a spring. Then the people can drink.”

So that’s what Moses did, in full view of their leaders. He called the place Griping Accusation, because it was where the Israelites griped and accused God of not being with them.

Being thirsty is one thing. Accusing someone of wanting to kill you is taking it to a whole new level. But then again, Moses hadn’t handled it very well, projecting the people’s frustration with him onto God. He gives the impression of carrying on the desert adventure a bit like Indiana Jones, “Give me a break, will ya, I’m making this up as I go along.” Traveling in fits and starts doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the leadership.

The story, in all, is a parable about what happens in communities under stress, when things aren’t going well and there is no clear direction. The people get grouchy, the leaders get defensive, leading to hyperbolic accusations flying in both directions. Bad scene.

The solution: a leaders retreat. Or rather, a leaders advance. And this is indeed what the church often does. And it seems to relieve the tension. At least something is being done about the presenting issue, and there is a short term solution. The people get something to drink. But the leaders retreat doesn’t fix the underlying problem. There is still no direction. They are all still stuck in the desert.

And the next thing they try to generate for themselves a sense of meaning, and for something to do: start a war. Exodus 17:8-15, has been conveniently left on the Common Lectionary’s cutting-room floor, but it’s an integral part of the story.

This story is, according to tradition, the moment where Moses screwed up. The incident at the “Rock of Horeb” is given as the reason he was unable to enter the Promised Land. And Horeb in Hebrew does indeed mean “ruin.” But the picture here is that there was more than striking the rock improperly that was involved in Moses’ downfall. This is the ruin where Moses’ traded his vision of freedom for a vision of establishing a new empire.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Matthew 4:1-11

The great spirit led Jesus on a vision quest in the wilderness where he met the devil. After forty days and nights without food, Jesus was starving.

The devil said, “If you’re God’s child, turn these stones to bread.”

Jesus said, “Scripture says it takes more than bread to really live. To live takes doing what God says.”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the pinnacle of the temple, and said, “If you’re God’s child, jump. Scripture says God will send an angel to catch you before you hit the pavement.”

Jesus said, “Scripture says not to trifle God with your stupidity.”

Then the devil took him to the top of a mountain and showed him all the world’s empires, and said, “These are all yours if you sign on with me.”

Jesus said, “Get out of here, Satan. Scripture says the only thing worth doing is what God calls you to do.

So the devil left him there. And angels came to bring him back from his vision.

Often titled “the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness,” this scene is a story about a vision. The inner struggle Jesus faces is not, as is commonly supposed, the three actions the devil proposes. Having just heard the voice of the great spirit proclaim that he is God’s child at his baptism, the struggle is whether Jesus will be true to himself. Will he really live? Or will he waste his life on bread and trifling piety doing what someone else suggests is more important? Will he do the work that is necessary to change the world? Or will he be just the next passing dictator? Will he determine for himself that he is God’s child? Or will he abandon that calling?

It’s the same existential questioning everyone goes through. Especially when we’re under stress.

  • Am I going to be who I know I am? Or am I going to just get by from one meal to the next?
  • Am I going to be who I know I am? Or am I going to waste my life away with trivialities and piously call it a leap of faith?
  • Am I going to give something great to the world? Or am I going to try to extract everything I can from it?

People will always be happy to tell you who they think you ought to be. But you know who you really are. The hard part is always making the commitment to be true to yourself instead of falling back into being whatever everyone else wants you to be. But, as tempting as it is to play it safe, lay low, keep your head down and go along to get along, it’s a path that ends always in ruin and regret.

There are many ways to say it, but only one way to do it:

  • To thine own self be true. – Shakespeare
  • Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde
  • Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life. – Buddha
  • The only thing worth doing is what God calls you to do. – Jesus