I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters,
that our ancestors were all under the cloud
and all passed through the sea,
and all of them were baptized into Moses
in the cloud and in the sea.
All ate the same spiritual food,
and all drank the same spiritual drink,
for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,
and the rock was the Christ.
Yet God was not pleased with most of them,
for they were struck down in the desert.
These things happened as examples for us,
so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.
Do not grumble as some of them did,
and suffered death by the destroyer.
These things happened to them as an example,
and they have been written down as a warning to us,
upon whom the end of the ages has come.
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure
should take care not to fall.
1 COR 10:1-6, 10-12
If the all Israelites were “baptized into Moses” (analogous to Christian Baptism) and “all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink”(analogous to the Eucharist), why was God not pleased with some so that He struck them down in the desert instead of entering into the Promised Land with the other Israelites?
This is the question Saint Paul wants us to contemplate in today’s second reading, because if God behaved in such a way during the first Exodus, and God does not change, we can expect Him to likewise behave towards us in the New Covenant. As Saint Paul says, what happened to the Israelites in the desert is a warning for us.
So what happened in the desert that displeased God? There were three instances in the desert where a portion (often the majority) of the Israelites were so rebellious that God would not let them continue the Exodus journey into the Promised Land He was giving them.
They first ran afoul when they asked Aaron to create a molten calf (the Egyptian god Apsis) for them to worship when they grew tired of waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain. Even worse, they attributed to Apsis their deliverance from Egypt! They had just promised to worship God and Him alone and He specifically said “you shall not make gods of gold”….but 40 days later their hearts were back in Egypt even if their bodies were not. As a result not only were many of the Israelites killed (all who had worshiped Apsis) but they lost the priesthood of the firstborn which was then transferred to the Levites who had not worshiped Apsis.
Israelite’s idolatry was clearly displeasing to God, but the problem began in their hearts not their actions. It took only 40 days without contact from God or His prophet for them to become restless. Worship is written into the heart of man, if we do not worship God we will worship something else (often ourselves). Where is our heart? Are we more intent on doing God’s will than our own? Do we persevere in prayer during times of dryness, when God seems far away? Or do we give up on prayer, thinking it useless, and instead turn to the instant gratification this world offers?
The second time Israel came close to being wiped out was when God was about to give them the Promised Land and they refused to enter. The spies who had seen the land reported the fierce people who lived there and all of Israel despaired. God said He would give them victory, but they did not believe Him. Thus God would allow none to enter but Joshua and Caleb, the only two who had trusted in God (apart from Moses & Aaaron). For 40 years they wandered in the desert, waiting for that generation to die before God could try once again to bring the people into the Promised Land.
The Promised Land is a “type” for Heaven, eternal beatitude with God. God is trying to lead us there but despair lies in wait along the path for those who do not trust God. Our path is the path Christ trod out for us on His way to Calvary. Are we willing to pick up our cross and die to self? Our victory is assured by Christ’s own victory on the Cross….but we can’t claim the victory if we won’t engage in the battle!
The third time Israel failed was during the 40 years of wandering in the desert. When they first complained of hunger God gave them “bread from Heaven,” miraculous manna to feed them. But they grew tired of the manna; more than that, they loathed “this miserable food!” They despised God’s gift, the miraculous food He provided to sustain them during their wandering in the desert. All the food they craved would have been theirs had they trusted God and entered the Promised Land in the first place! So they were left at the mercy of poisonous serpents and many died. Yet when their hearts turned toward God and they cried out for help He had Moses post a bronze serpent on a pole that all who look at it might be healed.
The manna is a “type” of the Eucharist, the true bread from Heaven. Have we come to take it for granted? Do we contemplate this great gift of God and receive it worthily? Do we despise what is from heaven and instead crave what is of earth? Are our hearts still in “Egypt”? We can also see the manna as a “type” of grace, which God pours out on us anew each day, giving us all that we need. Do we cooperate with this grace, or do we think it of little worth? Are we thankful each morning for the spiritual sustenance God provides, or do we take it for granted?
All of Israel was baptized into Moses and ate of the spiritual food and drank the spiritual drink, just as we all may be baptized into Christ and receive His body and blood in the Eucharist, but just as not all of Israel was found pleasing to God so too will it be with the Church. For now God allows the weeds to grow along with the grain, all that the cast net catches is drawn in, but on the Last Day the sheep will be separated from the goats.
Where is your heart? Is your heart in Christ, being conformed to His? Or is it back in Egypt?
God has given us the means of returning to grace, to spiritual health. Just as all those who looked to the Bronze Serpent were healed, so too all those who look to Christ on the cross, who put their trust in Him, will be healed. If you haven’t yet participated in the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lent, check with your local parish for days & times a priest is available.