Could the church possibly give us two readings that are more opposite? Here in the book of Numbers the people rise up against Moses and Aaron. Their physical needs are not met; they need water! Rather than ask politely, and trust in the one who delivered them from the demanding Pharaoh, they react with rash emotion. They quickly have forgotten all the LORD God has done for them. In their impatience they hold a council against Moses and Aaron who have been their intermediaries through this whole experience. As I listen to their rash emotion, I can’t help but think this is the same rash emotion which shouted those clear and precise words at Pilate’s face, “Crucify Him!” Today, the language and behavior in my city stems from the same rash emotion. People act without thinking. Emotion and rage overwhelm common sense. Innocent people get hurt. Finger pointing and blame are quick to be dished out. Its true in my city as well as yours, my neighborhood as well as yours, my family as well as yours, my heart as well as yours.
The Gospel begins with the other extreme. There is nothing hurried about this. For some time now the disciples have been witnessing Jesus doing the work of his Father. Jesus wonders how much of this they have put together. Can they see beyond human limitations? Can they transcend this piece of mystery which is more phenomenal than their sacred Torah? By this time the disciples have seen him do many miraculous healings. He seems to even have an authority over demons. They have heard his teaching on the hillside by the Sea of Galilee and the question which each one has been churning in his heart is, “Who is this man?” And Jesus asks them. But first, he gives them even more time. He takes them to an out of the way place, Caesarea Philippi, where they will have more time to reflect on all these pieces they have witnessed. How do you come to know who Jesus is? The answer is, by taking time to see the works of God in your midst.
The Israelites experienced first-hand the mighty works of God as they moved from slaves of Pharaoh to their freedom in the desert. Yet as time moves on they forgot. Today’s first reading is another testimony to their forgetfulness. Their fearful human reaction overcame their common sense. This is a re-occurring theme. Sometimes it seems like we never get beyond it. Peter is always caught in this pendulum. Today’s Gospel, look how quickly Peter goes from comprehension of the Messiah to putting his foot back in his mouth.
Some may choose to excuse this by simply saying this is part of our human condition. Yet Paul the Apostle doesn’t let it slide. Amidst whatever is going on in the community of Galatia, he writes encouragement to them.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.-Galatians 5:22-23
We all know that we are better people when we allow the fruit of the Spirit to flow through our lives. Maybe today is an opportunity to allow God’s grace a higher place within us than our human rash emotions, and the scriptures in their holiness remind us to patiently tend the fruits of the Spirit.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.