Saturday, September 26, 2009

It's NOT just for Moses anymore!

The Jews in the Desert, Tintoretto, c.1593

I've been reading through the First Lesson for the services at St. John's (we use an alternate Track from everyone else because.... well, because!) Anyway, our reading is from the Book of Numbers... the census count out in the desert. The story as told in Chapter 11 is funny, in that 20-20 hindsight, gee-I'm-glad-I-wasn't-out-there, sort of way. The Israelites, out in the desert, have received manna from Heaven. But instead of singing that popular children's tune from Passover, Dayenu, (which means, "That would be enough!"), the Israelites start a new round of complaining to the management:

"If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."--Numbers 11:5-6

Waaaaahhh! We don't want this stupid ol' manna! Life was sooo much better when Pharaoh was increasing our burden as slaves!! And it's your fault, Moses! Fix it!!

As you might imagine, Moses was feeling pretty put out at this point. And he rails against God:

"I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once--if I have found favor in your sight--and do not let me see my misery."--Numbers 11:14-15

Waaaaaahhh! I don't want to be the leader! It's too hard and everybody is on my case 24/7 about the stupid food!

At this point, God, once more, shows that a covenant made is a promise not to just drown them all for their kvetching. Instead, he gives Moses direction on what to do next to deal with this latest round of bellyaching. He tells Moses to go pick out 70 elders and bring them to the tent of meeting, and God would take it from there:

"Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders, and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again."--Numbers 11: 25

When I read this part of the passage, I couldn't help but think about those times when I've been placed in charge... and the task before me seems so enormous that I'd much rather stomp my foot in protest that this isn't what I'd bargained for, and why me? And each time I've been at that breaking point, I am able to see the wisdom in delegating, sharing the burden and responsibility of leadership with other trusted people. Some times this has backfired, but often it has served to greatly reduce my personal burden to "carry a people" and has led to a task getting finished. In this case, God had to intercede because Moses had worked himself up into quite a snit. But nonetheless, this moment with Moses, for me, is reminiscent of that line in the Gospel of Matthew, "Come unto me all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." That's what happened here. The load on Moses lightened, even if only for a short while, was enough to keep him going.

The reading finishes with the story of Eldad and Medad, some of the NON-select, still back in the camp and not at the Tent of Meeting, who nonetheless found themselves infused with God's spirit and they begin to prophesy. "How dare they!" is the complaint. "They weren't chosen, so they need to shut up! Only us 'special ones' get to speak on God's behalf!"

Truly, this is the height of obnoxiousness. This is akin to me to the modern day "hero worship" of bishops and clergy. Sure, they are learned. Sure, they know a lot of theology, and sure they have spent a long time with Scripture. But God doesn't expect only the clergy and bishops of the Church to live out the Good News; that's for everybody. And that's what Moses, relieved from having to be the "be all and end all" to everybody, essentially answers to those who are getting all worked up about Eldad and Medad:

"Are you jealous for my sake? Would that the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!"--Numbers 11:29

Update this language to 21st Century Brooklyn and it would read, "What's da matter with you? This is fine, so shaddup already!"

This particular chapter from Numbers serves to remind all of us, especially those of us in positions of responsibility, that we do NOT have to go it alone if we seek the help. Moses got angry at God, and God responded not in anger, but in the cool, measured response required for leadership. For me, this is the reminder that at those moments when I feel overwhelmed, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a measure of wisdom.


Phoebe said...

A very good reminder to me... especially as I get back from holiday.. and realize what is happening at St. John's.

SCG said...

A cryptic comment, Phoebe. I s'pose I'll get the rest of the story in about an hour...

Anonymous said...

Delegate, delegate, delegate already and the work will get done. Very good message.