Every day is an opportunity to commemorate God's love and compassion.
as interpreted by Deborah
While they were still in Egypt, God told Moses and Aaron: “This month will be the beginning of the new year for you.
“Tell the people that on the tenth of this month each family is to select a male yearling lamb, free from any spot or stain. On the fourteenth of the month the whole community will gather together and slaughter these animals at dusk. They will daub some of the blood on the doorposts and the lintels of their houses. They will eat the lamb that night, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
“Don’t eat it raw or boiled, only barbecued, whole. Don’t keep any leftovers for the next day; burn anything that is left. Eat with your coats buttoned, your shoes tied, and your bags packed; and eat in a hurry, don’t dawdle, for this is the passover of the Lord.
“I will go through Egypt that night, and I will kill every firstborn in the land, human and animal alike; the gods of Egypt will be helpless before me: I am the Lord.
“The blood will be a sign: when I see the blood, I will pass over your house, and no harm will befall you when I strike the land of Egypt.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance. You and all the generations to follow are to celebrate it as a holy day decreed by God.”
The survivors of the Egyptian plague had seen death close up and watched as it carried away hundreds of others in its cold fingers and yet left them untouched. Of all the population only they had been spared. It was as if they’d been given a new lease on life. It was a day of new beginnings.
Their miraculous rescue changed the people’s lives. It gave them a new understanding of who they were, and a new confidence in what they might achieve. These survivors banded together as a single community, dedicated to the worship of the God who Saves. Confident that this Most Powerful One was on their side, there was nothing they couldn’t do.
That’s a great way to be.
With a positive outlook and enthusiasm, we can accomplish great things. The Israelites were able to escape oppression, endure a long and difficult journey through the wilderness, and establish themselves in a new country — because they believed in God and in themselves. Despite the dangers and difficulties along the way, they persisted and in the end their efforts met with success.
They are truly an inspiration to us all.
Their story — our story — is a cautionary tale, as well.
It began as a joyful recollection of the Beloved’s goodness: a celebration of the generosity and abundance of divine mercy. The credit for the people’s rescue was wholly given to God — they didn’t believe they deserved to be spared because of their fine character or exemplary conduct; it was due to the goodness of God, who heard their cries and responded with compassion to their suffering.
Later on the people conflated the celebration of the event with the event itself; they began to ascribe their rescue to actions they had taken. It was no longer strictly about God’s mercy, but now included what they had done: the sacrificial offering, the lamb dinner, the marking of the doorways.
That’s when trouble arises: when we start to think of our blessings as “payback”: as God’s reward to us for services rendered. Surely we’ve earned these many good things, right? After all, we’re such excellent, noble characters, we deserve special treatment. Right??? Oh well....
The problem of taking credit for the good things that happen is that it requires us to assign responsibility for the bad things, as well. Therefore, when death, or disease, or disasters occur, we’ve got to find somebody to blame.
In our story today, it was those nasty Egyptians: bad eggs, the lot of them! That’s why the plague killed the firstborns of every household; they brought it on themselves. But then we stop and think. Really? All of the people of that nation were bad — every last one of them? And all of the animals: the sheep and the songbirds and the puppies, too?
That does not seem right.
And what of the sicknesses and sorrows that find their way into our lives? Terrible things happen that no one can have instigated, and certainly no one “deserves.” In the scriptures the book of Job makes that point quite clear: tragedies befall folks who are in no way to blame for what has happened.
But if the trouble isn’t the fault of the person, then somebody must be responsible. Make that Somebody, with a capital S.
While those who rush to “blame the victim” when things go wrong may seem utterly lacking in compassion, there is a certain logic (though mistaken) behind their effort: they are mounting a defense of God. Because if it wasn’t the fault of the afflicted, and if the Beloved is All Powerful, then it would stand to reason that God is unkind and unjust. Alternatively, it could be that God is simply incapable of turning aside evil — and thus not so powerful after all. Either way, it is hard on a person’s faith.
That is the challenge for believers: making sense of why bad things happen to good people. (Conversely, it can be hard to understand why good things happen to bad people, too.) Is God not paying attention? Has evil overcome the good? Does God no longer care?
We rarely give thought to such questions when life is humming along: “when God’s in His heaven and all is right with the world.” But our answers are tremendously important — especially when tragedies occur. What we believe makes a difference.
Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.
~ St. Francis of Assisi
The phrase, “God’s ways are not our ways,” brings no comfort in the face of suffering and pain. It is cruel to suggest to a mourner that the death of a loved one has somehow accomplished an unknown and unimaginable “good” or averted an evil. And if the ones who have died are in a better place, what does that say for those of us who are still here?
We don’t know all of the answers to life’s mysteries, but we do know the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As messengers of the Lord, we are called to be bearers of that blessed assurance; we are to console and encourage and uplift one another. Tragedies are not punishments, sorrows are not signs of divine disfavor. In fact, the Compassionate One seems particularly prone to reveal Godself in response to suffering — as the Israelites well knew.
God is with us always, in good times and in bad. The Beloved gives to all freely, graciously, abundantly — pouring forth a continuous stream of life-giving love over creation. There is no restriction, no payback, no exchange; no return demanded or expected (or possible!); all we can do is respond with love and gratitude.
If your only prayer is “thank you,” that is enough.
~ Meister Eckhart
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Tragedies are not punishments, sorrows are not signs of divine disfavor. Sometimes they provide opportunities for “the goodness of God to be revealed” (Jn 9:3). How do your words and works help to reveal that goodness?