…we’ll never be good enough.
by Danielle Shroyer
Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 34:1-12
For Sunday, October 23, 2011: Year A—Ordinary 30
If you’re a preacher trying to encourage your community that the hard work of faith pays off, you may want to pick another reading this week.
Moses was, in the words of Deuteronomy, “unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt.” “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.” And yet, all of that wasn’t enough to allow Moses to enter the Promised Land.
So Much for Happy Endings
If that isn’t disconcerting to even the most perfectionist, driven, and ambitiously faithful of us, I’m not sure what is. Good heavens, if MOSES didn’t have what it takes, let’s face it: the rest of us are toast.
Though not referenced in this passage, Numbers 20 says the reason God gives for not allowing Moses to enter is because of the hoopla at Meribah, when the people were complaining about lack of water. God told Moses to speak to the rock and call forth water; Moses hit the rock twice with his staff instead and used it as an opportunity to raise his voice at his whiny fellow travelers. Apparently, that was enough to erase decades of faithful service.
Never mind that Moses may have hit the rock out of sheer habit, or because he simply thought God meant for him to hit it. When faced with the same problem at Horeb (Exodus 17), God told Moses to strike the rock, and it worked like a charm that time. But even if Moses hit the rock in a moment of anger and weakness, you can hardly blame the guy after forty years in the desert with a bunch of whining, cantankerous and stiff-necked people.
We have all been the parent in the grocery store who raises her voice to her child after minute five of the tantrum, or the colleague in the conference room who finally snapped back to the annoying co-worker’s snide remarks. But can you imagine CPS hauling off your child for such an offense? Can you fathom having to clean out your desk after such a thing as that?
Look but Don’t Touch
God doesn’t seem to be paying attention to Moses’ overall batting average. Rather, God makes him pay the ultimate price for one bad swing. I’m not sure where this leaves us. Are we to fret over every mistake we’ve ever made? Are we to worry that grace may not extend to us when God withheld grace even from Moses, a man God called friend? Is the lesson here that God is like a parent who will never think our actions are good enough?
I suppose we can find a little solace in the fact that Moses at least got to see the Promised Land from a better height than his poor brother Aaron, whose only glimpse came from much lower down. But I can’t imagine how Moses must have felt when God said, “Here’s the land I promised. You can look at it, but you can’t cross over.” God might as well have given him a knockoff gold watch for his years of dedicated service.
The Hardest Question
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if grace had prevailed in this story. What would it have looked like if Moses was allowed to enter the Promised Land? I wonder if the hearts of the Israelites could have been softened if they had seen God act with mercy and compassion rather than harsh discipline? If Moses’ treatment of the rock was too harsh, was not God’s treatment of Moses exceedingly so?
Danielle Shroyer is the Pastor of Journey Church in Dallas, TX. She is the author of The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and blogs at www.danielleshroyer.com. Danielle lives with her husband, two children, and two wild and crazy dogs in Dallas.