Lenten Lectio: Reflection for the Third Week in Lent

Moses Striking Water from the Rock by Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Moses Striking Water from the Rock by Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Buckle your seat belts, we’re about to Tarantino this Lenten Lectio series a bit. Back on the reflection for the first week in Lent we talked about the temptation of Jesus. In that passage, Jesus references the story that will be the focus of this week’s reflection.  When tempted to throw himself off the Temple so that angels might catch him, Jesus responds with, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God .”  The “it’s written” part is reference to a passage in Deuteronomy 6:16 that remembers and reminds the people of the following story in Exodus.

The whole Israelite community broke camp and set out from the Sin desert to continue their journey, as the Lord commanded. They set up their camp at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people argued with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses said to them, “Why are you arguing with me? Why are you testing the Lord?”

But the people were very thirsty for water there, and they complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?”

So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with this people? They are getting ready to stone me.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of Israel’s elders with you. Take in your hand the shepherd’s rod that you used to strike the Nile River, and go. I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Hit the rock. Water will come out of it, and the people will be able to drink.” Moses did so while Israel’s elders watched. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites argued with and tested the Lord, asking, “Is the Lord really with us or not?”
Exodus 17:1-7 (CEB)

What I want to zoom in on in this passage is that last line.

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

That was the question behind the temptation of Jesus, it was the question asked by the thirsty Israelites wandering in the wilderness, it is the question we probably ask on an almost daily basis.  Especially in Lent when we have chosen to give something up in hopes of improving our relationship with God and others around us, sometimes the results are not soon apparent. Lent, and life in general for that matter, can sometimes feel like we’re just wandering around in the wilderness.  We feel like we have followed God out in the middle of nowhere with little to no direction. We may even start to feel like God has abandoned us.

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

For the Israelites, that was a time of testing and trial. I think we focus a lot on the development and change that the Israelites go through in the wilderness. God wanted to use that time to form them into the people he knew they needed to be in order to enter into the Promised Land. A whole generation died off before God saw fit to actually lead them to the doorsteps of Canaan. They were transformed from disjointed and scattered slaves in Egypt to a (generally) unified people with a common goal and a common God. They were no longer Hebrew slaves, but they were now Israelites. They had struggled with God and had become a people of God.

While that’s all well and good, there is a flip-side to this story. Not only was God testing and forming the Israelites, but the Israelites were testing God. This is typically considered a “negative” part of the story. Jesus’ temptation narrative and the recounting in Deuteronomy makes that clear. The place is named Massah (meaning testing, temptation, or trial) and Meribah (meaning strife, contention, or argument) as a reminder for what happened there. These tend to be negative ideas when we talk about a relationship with God. But, if you read the Old Testament closely, you’ll see that almost every major story has someone contesting, arguing or contending with God.  The people of the Old Testament are constantly asking…

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

A few examples: Abraham challenges God with destroying Sodom, Jacob wrestles with God and demands a blessing, Joseph endures years of imprisonment, Moses argues at the Burning Bush, Gideon gives God all sorts of tests, Jonah runs and then argues with God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego step into the furnace whether God will save them or not, and on and on. All the stories we are familiar with essentially demand that God answer the question of the day,

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

Lent is the time when we are challenged to enter into the story. We each ask in our own way “Is the Lord really with us or not?” by giving something up and entering into the darkness, wilderness and suffering of Lent. This is so that we might make space for God to show up.

Sometimes the ultimate act of faith is not just believing regardless of the situation, but actually putting God to the test.  Entering into a relationship and seeing if God is who he really says he is, if his promises are true, if his character stands the test and if he shows up.

Hit the rock, see if some water comes out.

Do you believe God is with you? Have you tested and asked him? Would you feel less faithful if you did? When have you felt like God is not with you? When has God confirmed that he is with you and for you?

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