My father was a wandering Aramaean said Moses, taking stock. He was grateful to have arrived in a land of milk and honey and now looked back to see how the goodness and generosity of God had placed him in this excellent situation, conscious of how far he had come.
My father went down into Egypt, to take refuge there, insignificant, but there became great, mighty and strong, despite harsh treatment. We all have different histories. To identify with Moses’ My father was a wandering Aramaean is simply to acknowledge that, spiritually at least, we have come a long way from where we started. Moses traces for us a pattern of spiritual experience. As men and women of faith we are joined together with all our brothers and sisters, in all their diversity, as a community which is educated by God. God has a plan for us and directs us along a path which will take us to the destination he has envisaged.
Under providence, we all have much in common
The pattern of relationship with God detected by Moses has applications to the life of us all. We begin by being brought out of a wilderness along a demanding path towards a promised land. There is a wandering and then a settling down which can be an acceptance of suffering. There is a difficult challenge in many lives which is like the harsh treatment endured by the Hebrews in Egypt. The exodus of the chosen race out of suffering also has its counterpart in our individual interior life. God leads us to freedom. We can all imagine different lives for ourselves but if the pattern of Deuteronomy is, to some degree, the pattern for us all. Then, at a certain moment, somehow or other, there comes, for all of us in our spiritual life, despite difficulties, something better. There is a moment of liberation or of improvement: walking along the path of providence is a kind of progress.
The wandering Aramaean became great and mighty, despite harsh treatment
Is this also our experience? Have we become conscious of the strength of faith, of the greatness of the way of life which is lived consciously under God? If so, we become aware of the splendour of God. We participate in a strength which has been forged elsewhere as well as in our own hearts. Our Blessed Lady, the apostles, the saints, two millennia of Christian history since the Resurrection: offer us patterns which will work for us. And we take it up for ourselves, possibly in a moment of decision, or in some crisis, or perhaps gradually, learning from others. We go forward but we also slide back. We put up a fair amount of resistance. We struggle. However, once in a while we notice that we have made a little progress, or, at least, that we could do so, with God’s gracious help, and with a stronger desire in our heart.
There is progress to be made. Saint Paul says All belong to the same Lord who is powerful enough, however many ask for help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord to be saved. We give thanks for the loving protection of God which has brought us to this point. But now what? Strangely, perhaps, there comes now the suggestion that, with Jesus, we should go back into the wilderness.
The risky season
God has led all of us wandering Aramaeans out of the desert into a promised land of milk and honey. In this holy but risky season of Lent we accompany the Lord back through his wilderness temptations. The Scripture says The evil one will return at the appointed time. There is a struggle with the devil in every life. We know, however, that our saviour, Jesus Christ, has already defeated all the devils. In Lent we revisit not only our own possible danger and ruin but his place of victory
We ask God for lots of things. Moses’ prescriptions about the grateful remembering which was to accompany the sacrificial offering were issued on the understanding that even in the land of milk and honey there remain things for which we have to ask. Naturally we ask. Such requests are the stuff of our spiritual life and of our hope. But our prayers are not blackmail, nor an ultimatum. Sometimes it is ‘make or break’ between us and God. In such an important moment the test, however, is of us not of God. Our saviour, Jesus Christ, stands with us in such crises.
The appointed moment
The appointed moment is for us a meeting with the Lord and not with the devil. In such a meeting is our progress. Led by providence, trained by the Holy Spirit of God, we step forward into the desert with a certain boldness. We are hoping to become great despite harsh treatment: that is, to allow God’s grandeur to show itself in our life, whatever its challenges, and to rejoice in it. We have come a long way. We are willing to walk with Jesus in the wilderness.
In these weeks before Easter we are learning to relish truly spiritual nourishment, to hand over the power in our life to the one who made us. We seek to trust God and not test him.
May this Lent be, for all of us, a time of truth and of understanding and of progress.
Peter Gallagher SJ