Old Testament: Exodus (17:1-7)
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
The Response: Psalm (78:1-4, 12-16)
1 Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
3 That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
4 We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
12 He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *
in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13 He split open the sea and let them pass through; *
he made the waters stand up like walls.
14 He led them with a cloud by day, *
and all the night through with a glow of fire.
15 He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *
and gave them drink as from the great deep.
16 He brought streams out of the cliff, *
and the waters gushed out like rivers.
The Epistle: Philippians (2:1-13)
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
The Gospel: Matthew (21:23-32)
When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” – so began today’s first reading.
The account of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness provided the inspiration for many biblical stories, up to and including the gospel accounts of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. And in many cultures, the story of a literal journey has served as an apt metaphor for the journey of life. The journey motif has inspired some of the greatest works in all of human literature.
Our lives also can easily be envisioned as journeys. Like the Israelites in the books of the Torah or Pentateuch, we travel “by stages,” moving, at least figuratively, from place to place. And, depending on the circumstances that we encounter and the choices that we make, we can, like them, find ourselves at times in a place where there is figuratively no water: in a situation or environment that cannot satisfy our inner thirst, our deepest thirst, our longing for something more than just merely getting through life.
That happens to those who live their lives in poverty: who struggle just to get by, who lack the education and training to earn what they need in order to care for themselves and for their families, who find themselves confined to neighborhoods where violence and despair prevail. They find themselves thirsting for something more, for a better life: for a life that is always, it seems, beyond their reach.
But it happens also to people who seem to have “succeeded” in life: to those who have more than sufficient material resources, who live in safer and more comfortable neighborhoods, who hold responsible positions in the business world and in their community. Some of them find themselves thirsting for something more than their material success can ever provide, for a genuine sense of self-worth that no amount of money can give, who long for meaning and purpose in life.
Those situations are common to people in every age. But the time in which we live is one in which that kind of thirst seems to be especially prevalent.
For decades, historians have written about the cycles that are evident in the public and political life of our nation and of other nations throughout the world. One of the most observable of those cycles is the one that alternates between a primary focus on serving the good of all, on the one hand, and serving people’s private concerns, on the other. Ultimately, it comes down to the difference between a broad focus on the needs of all and a narrow focus on the needs and wants of the few, or ultimately of the one.
Even a brief look at the current tendencies that are evident in many nations of the world, including our own, points clearly to a narrow focus. One nation after another has moved away, in varying degrees, from an emphasis on international cooperation and a focus on serving the needs of all the people of the world to an emphasis on “my country first” or “my regional group first” or “my ethnic group first.” The movement emphasizes the supposed differences between “us” and “them.”
We see that even in this nation: one which was founded on the solemn affirmation that we are all in this together. Even with our heritage of pursuing the common good, we find ourselves with a contemporary focus on the individual and on “doing whatever I want with whatever I have.” The solemn closing words of the Declaration of Independence pledge: “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” The founders affirmed that whatever they had would be used to ensure the blessings of liberty for all. Yet so many today reverse that declaration. They declare that “my life, my fortune or possessions, and whatever honor I have is mine and for me.” A primary focus on the common good has been turned into a primary focus on the individual’s supposed right to be free of obligations to the entire community.
Such an emphasis might lead to satisfying people’s thirst for material acquisition, but it can never satisfy the deeper thirst that our creator has placed within us. It inevitably leads to a parched soul whose longing for life-giving water in never quenched. As Viktor Frankl once lamented, “More people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.”
In contrast to that narrow, self-centered, narcissistic approach to life, St. Paul in today’s second reading points the way to the rock that is the source of living water: to the example given to us by Jesus himself. In a passage that we read each year on Palm Sunday, Paul describes Jesus’ life of self-emptying, focusing not on himself but on doing God’s work by giving of himself to serve the needs of all. And he calls on Jesus’ followers to do the same: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Living, not just for ourselves, but first and foremost for the good of everyone: that is the way to satisfy our deepest longing, our search for meaning. It places the journey of our lives, and of all the stages of our lives, within the widest of all possible contexts: the context of God’s great and ongoing work of creation and of making all creation new. And it is by taking our place within that work, and by participating with God and with one another in that work, that we find the living water that satisfies our deepest thirst: the water that gives meaning and purpose and life to all that is.