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(Part 49)


August 7, 2013
Today’s reading: Numbers 13:1-14:35

God said to Israel: Go and take the land.

The 12 scouts sent to reconnoiter the land confirmed that the land “does indeed flow with milk and honey” (Nm 13:27). But 10 of the 12 said the people in the land were strong and that they could not overcome them, thereby discouraging the Israelites. In fact, “the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Nm 14:2a), desiring to return to Egypt, and even “threatened to stone them.” (Nm 14:10a). Because of their rebellion, grumbling and wickedness, God punished them. They would “wander for forty years, suffering for (their) infidelity, till the last of (them) lies dead in the wilderness.” (Nm 14:33).

Now God tells His people to take the land, that is, to proclaim salvation in Jesus and bring people back to Himself, to dispossess the enemy and build God’s Kingdom on earth. Are they doing it? Hardly. Though the harvest is abundant, the laborers are few.

Many Catholics are afraid of the struggle and commitment needed to take the land. They continually magnify their fears. The Israelite scouts first said the inhabitants of the land were “powerful,” then that they were “huge” and so regarded them as giants, then that compared to them they “seemed like mere grasshoppers” (Nm 13:33). While there are indeed challenges to face and obstacles to overcome, we must fear not, for God is with us, being the one who sends us forth into battle. Caleb’s posture is right: “We ought to go up and seize the land, for we can certainly prevail over it.” (Nm 13:30).

Many Catholics do not grasp the vision for the mission. They easily give up. They do not endure nor persevere. Like the Israelites, they prefer Egypt to this new land flowing with milk and honey. They would even go back to their old lives rather than move ahead (Nm 14:4).

Many Catholics are ingrates, losing sight of what God has already done for them in bringing them out of bondage, as the Israelites from Egypt, and entering into covenant with them and offering them the promised land. Faced with a lack of food in the desert, they preferred to return to bondage in Egypt. Faced with a strong enemy now, they preferred to die in the wilderness of Paran (Nm 14:2).

Many Catholics are disobedient and lack trust in God. Despite all the blessings and wonders they have already experienced, they persist in their intransigence and hard-heartedness. “How long will this people spurn me? How long will they not trust me, despite all the signs I have performed among them?” (Nm 14:11). Like the Israelites, they exasperate God. They are a “people who have seen my glory and the signs I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and who nevertheless have put me to the test ten times already and have not obeyed me.” (Nm 14:22).

Many Catholics are grumblers. Instead on focusing on all the good God does for them, they keep a narrow focus on what they do not like in their lives or in their community or in the community’s mission, and blame God if He does not change the situation. They see wrong in every aspect of life. They grumble against their leaders and against one another. “They spread discouraging reports” (Nm 13:32a), thus bringing down the spirits of those who are willing to go forth. They even threaten revolt. Such grumbling is against God, who is the one who sends us forth. “How long will this wicked community grumble against me?” (Nm 14:27a).

Now the fight indeed will be intense, for “the people who are living in the land are powerful, and the towns are fortified and very large.” (Nm 13:28a). Our enemy indeed is powerful. He is Satan. His earthly forces are powerful, from the President of the USA to the European Union to the United Nations to billionaire philanthropists to international liberal media. In their eyes we seem like mere grasshoppers, ready to be crushed. The towns and nations they dominate are well fortified in their anti-faith, anti-family, anti-life, pro-homosexualist defenses. Their dominion is very large, from almost all of Europe to the western nations to growing forces of dissent throughout the world. So what is to be our response? “At this, the whole community broke out with loud cries, and the people wept into the night.” (Nm 14:1). Do we just wring our hands and give up the fight? Hell, no!

First, we must not lose sight of the reality of our mission. It is God who sends us, it is God who equips us, it is God who assures us of the victory. Therefore we must not be afraid. “You need not be afraid of the people of the land, for they are but food for us! Their protection has left them, but the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.” (Nm 13:9b).

Second, we must be a faithful people, to God and to our covenant with God. We need to be pure and pleasing instruments for God. “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us in to this land and give it to us” (Nm 14:8).

Third, we must simply obey. God is patient with us, but His patience can run out, as He has work that needs to be done. “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in kindness, forgiving iniquity and rebellion; yet certainly not declaring the guilty guiltless, but punishing children to the third and fourth generation for their parents’ iniquity.” (Nm 14:18). The Israelites had to wander in the desert for 40 years.

The people of God today have been unfaithful. There are those who prefer a life of slavery in the world rather than the promised land flowing with milk and honey. There are those who are disobedient to God’s commands and even rebel against His directions. There are those who are paralyzed into inaction by fear of suffering that comes with taking the land.

But we must be servants like Caleb. “But as for my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and follows me unreservedly, I will bring him into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall possess it.” (Nm 14:24). We must have the spirit of obedience, of total trust, of confidence in God’s promises, of wholehearted giving of self, of joy in adversity.

Why must the people of God continue to wander in the desert, suffering for their infidelities, and ending up dead in the wilderness (Nm 14:33)? Slavery or freedom? The wilderness or the promised land? Deprivation or abundance? Defeat or victory? It should not be much of a choice.

God sends us forth to bring in a bountiful harvest. This is the call to the New Evangelization. May many more Catholics respond to the call, and become laborers for the harvest. Go and take the land!

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