Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blessed Are Your Eyes Because They See, And Your Ears Because They Hear

Exodus 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20
In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on the very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel pitched camp there in the desert in front of the mountain.

The LORD said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.

And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.


Matthew 13:10-12
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; they hear, but they do not listen or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

" 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.'

“ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

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It was three months, day for day, after they had left Egypt that the children of Israel reached the Sinai Desert. What did they do when they got there? They pitched camp. Reading this passage from Exodus reminded me of a journey I made nearly half a century ago, crossing the country with a couple from my home town and their children. We travelled from Massachusetts to New Mexico, where I would spend one year, and they would spend their lives, as lay missionaries.

I remember one night in particular when we pitched camp on the plains, and spent the night watching the Perseid meteor shower. We sensed the presence of God, as we enjoyed the warmth of the campfire and the beauty of His creation.

I wonder if the children of Israel had the same sentiments when they pitched camp in the Sinai Desert. After their exodus from Egypt, they felt a need for reassurance, both about Moses’ leadership, and about the Lord’s presence with them on their way to the land of promise. For the most part, God’s presence had been masked by smoke and fire, which was surely more awesome than our campsite. It was about to become even more spectacular when the Lord called Moses to the mountain top for a leadership conference.

In today’s gospel, the disciples of Jesus wonder why he speaks to the crowds in parables. There seems to be an underlying question: “Why don’t you just say what you mean? Why can’t you simply tell us who will live in eternal bliss with God, and who will perish in hellfire?” I can sympathize with the disciples, as I wonder why some folks speak in a manner that is less than direct. (And, to be honest, sometimes people say that about me, when they ask me to explain some point of scripture, of doctrine, or of church law.)

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, which allowed everyone who heard to learn from his words. Even those who resisted the teaching of Jesus, the Good News he was announcing, could not help but gain some insight into the relationship between them and God. Rather than stating a proposition plainly, the parable requires reflection and meditation to unpack the meaning of the message. People see different things in the parables. Reflection adds richness to these stories, as we begin to grasp the dimensions of the characters and of the interaction between them.

But, this gospel also suggests that some folks are not granted insights into the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. Some shut their eyes, block their ears, and turn their backs. This can be troublesome, but we may experience evidence that bears out the truth of the mystery as we consider the parallels between the personages in the parable and our own experiences. Sometimes, our confrontation with the truth can be uncomfortable, and we might well back off, or even run away, if we are not ready to face our true self. But, like the Prodigal son in the parable, we can come to our senses, and allow God to draw us to greater understanding of his goodness and of his call to follow him.

It is a precious grace to have our eyes and ears opened so that we might see and understand the mysteries of the Kingdom. May God help us not to take that gift for granted; may we be attentive to the Word of Life that has been shared with us, so that we might dwell in His Kingdom now and forever.

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