Has any historical event so important been described in such an understated way? In today’s first reading from Exodus, we read the rather bland statement, “The children of Israel set out from Rameses for Succoth….” Admittedly, you begin to get an indication of the scale of the historical moment as the text goes on, “about six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting the little ones.” But even so, it’s a pretty laid back description of one of the great liberation events in history! After 430 years in Egypt, the last 50 or so in slavery, the Jewish people are finally being set free.
No doubt, as they began the journey, they were filled with excitement and hope, happy to shake the dust of Egypt from their sandals. Had they realized how long the journey would take, some 40 years, they probably would have never had the heart to begin. Trials and tribulations, suffering and loss, fear and violence were an integral part of the journey. Yet, at the urging of Moses and their other religious leaders, they persisted. And, they gradually came to understand how deeply God loved them, how faithfully God traveled with them, how attentive and responsive God was to their needs. By the time they entered the Promised Land, they no longer thought of themselves as the slaves of Egypt, but as the “chosen people of God.” Now that’s a true transformation.
Many of us can recognize ourselves in this great story. It’s a long journey to a deep understanding of God’s great love for us. And, it’s a great challenge to grow into a deep conviction that God is walking with us throughout all the experiences of our lives. Yet, that’s what this story is about. It reminds us that the journey of the people of Israel is the model for our own personal journey and that of the whole Christian community. As you remember these great events of old, may you recognize in it your personal journey and realize that your journey is the path God is using to invite you into His loving embrace.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.