God's Word on Sunday: A focus on God makes the journey easier

  • June 15, 2023

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time  (Year A) June 18 (Exodus 19:1-6a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:6-11; Matthew 9:36-10:8)

A scant three months had passed since the Israelites left Egypt. Their liberation was incredibly dramatic. Plagues, parting seas and the humbling of one of the superpowers of the ancient world were the means by which God had led them to freedom.

Now God called Moses to the mountain for a face-to-face meeting. God wanted to make His expectations and promises crystal clear. He reminded Moses of all the events of recent days — the humiliation of Egypt and the miraculous escape from captivity. All that was required of the Israelites in return was fidelity and obedience. If they were faithful to the covenant and the commandments of God, they would be God’s cherished people, acting as both example and mediator for the peoples of the Earth.

It sounds uncomplicated, and on one level it is. But constancy is not a common human virtue, and the Israelites were no different. Their march across the desert was a sad and violent saga of complaints and murmuring against Moses and against God. They often expressed the desire to return to Egypt and slavery. Disobedience and rebellion were rife among their ranks. The spirit of rebellion finally erupted in total apostasy and idolatry in the notorious incident of the Golden Calf. Before the long and woeful tale was over, the entire generation born in Egypt would be dead. The people were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years so that they could be purified and toughened.

It seems that humans often wreck God’s plans and wander off in the wrong direction. Why are fidelity and constancy so difficult? We might object that the Israelites had seen God’s mighty deeds and we have not. But that did not seem to have helped them, for they rebelled in spite of having had a ringside seat at those spectacular events.

The wilderness journey of the Israelites is a metaphor for our own lives. We face many challenges, temptations and distractions. When we make a reasonable effort to faithfully walk in God’s ways, God is there to help us. If we refuse God’s friendship, it is far more difficult for God to lighten our burden. Focusing our minds and hearts on God and the divine path that God has given us will make our journey much easier and far more rewarding. God does not ask for perfection on our part but fidelity and perseverance.  

This is most evident, according to Paul, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God could have waited until we had reached a state of near perfection before sending Jesus into the world, but God did not. God met us where we were, just as He meets us where we are today. Jesus died for us while we were still a mess and mired in sin. This is proof of God’s abundant love and mercy. God chose to walk the journey with us. In a similar way, we should not have unrealistic expectations of others. We can meet people where they are, accompanying them and extending encouragement, support and hope.  

Jesus was moved to compassion by the crowds that were harassed and helpless. They had no real guidance and had no idea where to turn or what to do next. There are many today in similar situations. His comments about the harvest and labourers are as true today as they were then. The need is very great indeed, and many are trapped in lives of despair and confusion and long for companions on the journey. But the labourers are few — and that does not just concern numbers. The labourers must themselves know where they are going and must have that same compassion for others that Jesus did. Being a shepherd to people does not mean whipping them into shape or laying burdens on them. And it certainly does not mean becoming rigid and retreating into a golden past that is myth and fantasy. Jesus empowered His disciples with the Spirit and sent them out to proclaim comforting and encouraging news to people: God was very near to them. As proof, this proclamation was accompanied by many healings and exorcisms.

Many people are still yearning for that assurance and sign of hope. We can do a great service for God by being that beacon of hope, encouragement and guidance for those struggling on the way.