Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock across the desert, he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in fire flaming out of a bush. As he looked on, he was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed. So Moses decided, "I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned."
When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, "Moses! Moses!" He answered, "Here I am." God said, "Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers," he continued, "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob." Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. But the Lord said, "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey."
Moses said to God, "But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your fathers has sent me to you," if they ask me, "What is his name?" What am I to tell them?" God replied, "I am who am." Then he added, "This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you."
God spoke further to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, this is my title for all generations."(P) The word of the Lord.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. (R)
He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R)
The Lord secures justice and the rights of all the oppressed. He has made known all his ways to Moses, and his deeds to the children of Israel. (R)
Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him. (R)
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 the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was 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.(P) The word of the Lord.
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?" By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!"
And he told them this parable: "There was once a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, "For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?" The gardener said to him in reply, "Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not, you can cut it down.""(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Once, a man stumbled and almost fell into a lake, but was caught by a friend walking next to him. From then on, every now and then, as they passed along the lake, the friend would recall the incident and warn him to be careful with his steps. And the man hated being reminded repeatedly of the incident. When he could not take it anymore, he took his friend to the lake and, with clothes and shoes still on, deliberately jumped into the water in the same spot. As he lay in the water, he pleaded to his friend, "Now, look, I'm as wet as I would have been if you didn't save me that day. For goodness' sake, stop reminding me of the incident."
Whether we are aware of it or not, we dislike the people who remind us of the past experiences in life, especially shortcomings, mistakes, failures or negative qualities which we chose to forget about or put aside. We even tend to take some extreme steps to avoid being reminded of them, so that they can be pushed aside. We know that dwelling on our flaws and weaknesses is both psychologically and spiritually unhealthy and self-destructive, yet reflecting on them will only help us learn something - no matter how painful and negative they are.
The Bible recounts many stories of miracles, battles or political victories brought about by Israelites' great trust and faith in God. It also recounts stories of destruction and death caused by their disobedience and rebellion against God and His commands. The purpose behind all of these stories is that we, human beings, may learn from both good and bad examples. But it is quite evident in the Bible that the Israelites never seemed to learn from their experiences. Despite admonitions and warnings by God's servants, the prophets, the Israelites repeatedly gave in to temptation and fell into sin, Deuteronomy (7:1-2); Psalm (78); 2 Kings (17:7-8); Jeremiah (32:30); Amos (9:8); 1 Samuel (8:7-8); Nehemiah (9:13-17); Isaiah (55); Ezekiel (33:10-11); Hosea (1:2); Joshua (1:11). Their repeated failure to obey God, eventually, led to their own destruction.
Knowing that the Christians at Corinth were also on the brink of self-destruction, just as the Israelites were, the Apostle Paul had a similar warning. In Paul's days, Corinth was a major Roman colony and a wealthy trade centre in ancient Greece. It also had a reputation for idolatry and prostitution, and it had numerous temples, shrines and altars to various gods. Paul visited Corinth around 50 AD and founded the church, spending nearly two years there before going on to Ephesus, Acts (18; 19:8-10, 20:31). However, while in Ephesus, he received reports of disputes in the Corinthian church, concerning gospel teachings, worship, doctrines and practices.
Besides, he also learned that the believers were becoming spiritually complacent and overconfident before God. Even though many of them were converts, they were looking at their material prosperity and special spiritual gifts which were deluding them into believing that they were safe, secure and made superior to others by the Lord in being blessed far more than other Christians who had fewer material possessions and less spiritual gifts. They were thinking that their being made partakers of the gospel and sacraments, such as baptism and the Lord's Supper, would have already secured their salvation, notwithstanding their feasting in pagan temples and indulging in their materialistic desires. So, Paul wrote to help them with their problems and to strengthen those who were struggling with abandoning their past beliefs and practices. In today's second reading, we read how Paul dealt with the issue of idolatry in the Corinthian church, 1 Corinthians (10:1-6, 10-12). He warned them against idolatrous desires by reminding them of Israel's history.
Now let's look at the contents of the text. Paul began his exhortation by emphatically saying that he did not want the Christian community at Corinth, which included some Jews, but largely composed of Gentile converts, to be "unaware" or "ignorant" of many wonderful events in the lives of their ancestors, particularly when they were sojourners in the desert, 1 Corinthians (6:9-11; 7:18-19; 8:7; 10:1a; 12:2).
First, Paul reminisced that their ancestors were all "under the cloud", 1 Corinthians (10: 1b). This is a clear reference to the Exodus when God guided the Israelites by means of a cloud. The cloud sheltered the Israelites from the burning desert sun by day and, as night came, it turned into a pillar of fire to give them light, Nehemiah (9:12); Exodus (13:21-22); Numbers (9:15-23). It was a constant reminder of God's glory and presence with them, Exodus (13:21; 14:19). That is to say, during their wanderings through the desert, the ancient Israelites had not been left on their own but rather were all under the protective influence of God.
Secondly, Paul recalled that "all passed through the sea", 1 Corinthians (10:1b). This, obviously, is a reference to the Israelites, numbering about two million, crossing the sea that today is known as the Red Sea, with Pharaoh's army in pursuit, Exodus (14). Paul proceeded to link these events to Israel's baptismal initiation. He said, "all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea", 1 Corinthians (10:2). These two supernatural demonstrations of God led the Israelites to put their trust not only in God but also in Moses. Because of Moses, who mediated between God and the Israelites and who provided supernatural leadership for them under God, they were able to leave Egypt. He had displayed qualities that impressed those who did not believe in the God he represented. In this respect, Paul said that they were, therefore, "baptized" into Moses.
Furthermore, Paul pointed out that all the Israelites, not just some of them, "ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them", 1 Corinthians (10:3-4). Here, "spiritual food" and "spiritual drink" are obvious references to "manna" and "water" which God provided to the Israelites in the desert. According to the scriptures, the Israelites murmured against God, accusing Him of bringing them out of Egypt to die of starvation and thirst in the wilderness, Exodus (16, 17); Numbers (20:1-13). But God responded with mercy by giving them manna, or bread, and water from a rock.
Paul explicitly identified that the rock which quenched the Israelites' thirst as the "spiritual rock", and "the rock was Christ". Moreover, Paul described the rock as something which followed the Israelites. This does not mean that the rock itself literally followed them, any more than that they literally drank from the rock. Paul, here, merely used a figure of speech that was common in Jewish tradition. A literal rock following the Israelites in the wilderness meant that they drank of the water that continued to flow from the rock. Thus, by eating the same supernatural food and drinking the same supernatural drink from the same supernatural rock, the Israelites had received supernatural sustenance throughout their days of wilderness-wandering.
Finally, Paul indicated, "Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for "they were struck down in the desert", 1 Corinthians (10:5). In other words, Paul was very clear and direct that despite all the events and signs God had performed among them, the Israelites did not please God. They repeatedly grumbled against God rather than believing in Him. They complained so much that it took forty years for them to make it from Egypt to their Promised Land, a distance of about 250 miles that should not have taken more than three weeks. They walked by sight and not by faith. In so doing, most of the Israelites who came out of Egypt never entered the Promised Land; instead, they died in the desert.
Paul then used the 1,500 years of Israelite history to warn and to encourage the Corinthian Christians. He said, "These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things as they did, 1 Corinthians (10:6). 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 warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come", 1 Corinthians (10:10-12). Here, "these things" refer to Israel's repeated sins, such as, their idolatry, sexual immorality, grumbling, ingratitude, forgetfulness of God and His mercies, and the consequences of their sins.
In addition, Paul also identified the factors that led to all the things that happened to the Israelites:
Thus, Paul regarded everything that had happened in Israel's history as having a divine purpose of blessing for others, and he cautioned the Corinthian Christians against overconfidence or the false sense of security in sacramental worship and special privileges. Instead, he urged them to take care that they would not fall as those ancient Israelites did.
What is the message for us?
Hegel, a German philosopher of the early 19th century said that the one thing we learn from history is that we, human beings, do not learn any lessons from history. That's so true. History teaches us that both individuals and society, secular and non-secular institutions and governments do not seem to learn from history. We all make mistakes and commit sins, and even regret the things of the past. Yet, it is likely all of us make the same mistakes and commit the same sins over and over again. If we do not learn from our own or others' mistakes and sins, we are doomed to repeat them and suffer the same consequences, as the ancient Israelites or our own parents or other family members who have suffered and are suffering due to their past mistakes and sins.
Today's passage from Paul is a gentle reminder to us that, just as we follow and learn from the many good examples of the righteous in the Bible, we must also learn to extract good lessons from the bad examples; we must avoid the mistakes of the wrongdoers.
Just as the ancient Israelites and the early Christians were baptized, so also are we all baptized into Christ's body by one Spirit, and we have all received the same baptism; we all receive in Holy Eucharist, the same spiritual food and drink; we all enjoy the same spiritual privileges and rights through the other sacraments; we all hear and meditate on the same Word of God; we all use the same sacramental objects such as rosaries, crucifixes, medals, holy water, statues, etc.; we all follow the same sacramental actions, such as the sign of the cross, genuflection, prayers etc.; and, yet, we could miss out all that God has provided for us if we are spiritually complacent.
Therefore, let us take heed of the warnings and persuasions of the apostle Paul and seek to be careful so we will not "fall from our secure position" or "fall from our strong faith in Christ", 2 Peter (3:17); Colossians (2:5); 1 Corinthians (10:12). This is a warning to all of us, just as much as it was to the Corinthian church. Let us guard ourselves against the intrusion of self - complacent thoughts, moral and spiritual pride, unbelief and all other wickedness, so we will receive the just reward - life and peace with God in His Kingdom on earth here and now, and in the future.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!