17 Oct 2010
“Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hand, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” (Exodus 17:12) In the name …
This past weekend we invited my father, sister and brother-in-law out with us to dinner to celebrate Amanda’s Confirmation. While at the table, my brother-in-law was talking about his new smart phone. These things are like little computers. He was complaining that he couldn’t get the phone numbers to appear on the screen of recently placed calls to him. This was more than a nuisance because he’s a building contractor and he needs to return phone calls to customers, employees and suppliers while often times out on the road or at a site. He and my sister had tried everything with that smart phone. They insisted that they had hit every single key on the pad, and all to no avail. He then put the phone down on the table. Kristin doesn’t have one of these smart phones. But literally, in less than five seconds, she hit some button and the problem was solved.
My brother-in-law couldn’t believe it, my sister couldn’t stop laughing. Technology has become intuitive for this younger generation. It comes to them naturally. Kristin and Amanda both began reading on the computer. They were playing with technology before they entered pre-school. And now technology has become a part of their world like TV’s were in my generation. Technology is just there; it’s not something that really needs to be worked at or even thought about. It’s just there. And this is a simple example of the unchanging fact that times change, generations change, people and societies change, and the way we think about things change, even unchanging things, things like faith and even God.
Take for example that the world has been enraged by a court ruling in Iran that has condemned a woman to death by stoning because she was found guilty of adultery. From what I understand, she rejected a prearranged marriage to a man she did not love and chose instead to marry a man she did love. For this religious crime stones will be thrown at her body until it is broken and shattered, and she dies a slow and painful death from her injuries. This is what the religious courts in Iran have spoken on behalf of their god. The men throwing the stones at this woman whose only crime was to fall in love will imagine that God is pleased with their violence and that they have done His will by killing her. We’re insulted by this now, but 3,000 years ago this was our religious law too. It is written in the Bible’s Old Testament that those caught in adultery shall both be put to death (Lev. 20:10).
The New Testament, however, offers the compelling story of the adulterous woman brought before Jesus and His quietly compelling words, “‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (Jn 8:7) Jesus is speaking for the same God as the one who inspired the Old Testament commandment of stoning. Had God changed or had human society? Had our appreciation for the will of God grown into something more profound? Did we see God’s holiness in a different light? It’s the same God in Leviticus as in John. If God hasn’t changed, then we must have. How come we feel so much more comfortable with Jesus’ revelation of God than with that of Moses? It all points to the fact that times change, people change, and even our grasp of the eternal and the almighty must, therefore, change. And thank God for that change. I would hate to be a part of that religious voice calling for the stoning of a woman who merely loved the wrong man.
Or think about today’s Old Testament reading of Israel’s battle with the Amalekites. As long as Moses kept his staff elevated, Joshua was able to prevail on the battlefield. What this ends-up meaning is summed-up for us in the last line of today’s reading: “Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” (Ex. 17:13) I was listening to a story on National Public Radio the other day and they were interviewing men associated with a website called Revolution Muslim [http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=130519592&m=130530441] which is a site that brings together volunteers here in America and terrorist organizations. They said their motivation was “loving and hating for the sake of allah,” in other words, to kill others for God. Now if we’re offended by this, then we should also recognize its similarity with the story of Israel, which celebrates the annihilation of the Amalekites. It even goes as far as to name God “The Lord is my banner,” (Ex. 17:15) which refers to the banner leading into battle, which means that God leads the destruction and annihilation of all those other people at the edge of the sword. Since we are hopefully more familiar with Jesus’ consistent “turn the other cheek” gospel message, then we have to realize that either God has changed or we have changed. I think we are bothered by the idea of love and hate in God’s name, but this was once part of how we looked to God. So again we see that times change and we change with them, and this change colours the way we think about God. Once again, thank God for the progression of our faith, the change in the way we look to God.
There are substantial truths that need to be discovered beneath all of these changing perceptions. The treatment of adultery may speak of the lasting truth of love and commitment. The stories of conquest may tell us about God’s protection of those who call upon Him. All of this points to the fact that faith is not static. We don’t relate to God today the way we did long ago, and examples of adultery and holy war only make this clear to us. The Bible isn’t lying to us. Faith isn’t a sham. It’s all pointing to the fact that our faith lives as individuals and as a community evolve, that our relationship with God changes because we are always changing. As we change and grow, we understand God differently. And this ties in with today’s Gospel reading of perseverance. We must continually re-evaluate our faith. We must grow in our faith not just hang on to where we once were. And just as Moses had help elevating his staff, so we all need to help each other in the search for God, that we don’t let our efforts fall, that we persist in working at our faith. This is the importance of the church community. We’re here to support and challenge each other so that the evolution of our faith may move us forward and closer to God. Change is natural and not evil. As Christians and as church we should embrace the idea of change because I don’t think we want to be what we once were. And for this kind of an active and growing faith we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo