Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister recently remarked, "Nothing we do now will change the past, but everything we do now will change the future."

Our biblical authors share her insight. They certainly don't think of themselves as critical historians. They narrate past events only to help their readers understand what they should be doing in the present: the point of time in which one actually encounters God.

Paul proclaims this concept in the second reading (It Cor 10: 1-6, 10-12). These things, he writes, happened as examples for us, as a warning. The Apostle believes in the practice of comparing our present situation to our faith-ancestors' past situation. Whatever they did or refused to do in the past, we still have a chance to change in the present. His only fear parallels Sister Joan's insight: Our reluctance to reshape the present guarantees a future that repeats the present.

Our role

Paul creates a comparison between the tremendous things Yahweh did to get the Israelites out of Egypt with the tremendous things Jesus is doing of His community in Corinth. But Paul is convinced that divine actions alone will change nothing. Only our reaction to them will alter the future for better or worse.

The wilderness-wandering Israelites reacted to Yahweh's salvific action by complaining, and "were struck down in the desert and suffered death by the destroyer." Instead of grumbling, they should have imitated Moses, their liberator (Ex 3: 1-8, 13-15).

Carrol Stuhlmueller often reminded his students that the Exodus author presumes the burning bush has been burning for a long time before Moses notices it. Yahweh doesn't ignite the fire a few seconds before the Hebrew shepherd comes around the corner. People have been walking past the phenomenon for a long time, yet no one notices anything out of the ordinary. Such bushes are so common in the Sinai that hardly anyone even looks at them.

Moses' uniqueness revolves around his ability to recognize God's presence in the ordinary things which overflow our present lives. He realizes that even a God-forsaken piece of real estate is "holy ground." Only because he can discover the sacred in the profane does Moses hear Yahweh's voice and eventually understand his own role in salvation history.

Participating

This last point zeroes in on the main problem we have with this process: Those who are keenly aware of God working in their everyday lives not only reach a deeper understanding of God; they also begin to realize that God expects them to participate in whatever leads to their eventual freedom. We're no longer sitting in the audience; we're on the stage. We have no problem with our salvation as long as "God does it." But once we begin to understand that we're to participate in God's action by changing the present, huge difficulties arise.

This seems to be why the risen Jesus of the Gospels makes a big thing of "repentance" (Lk 13: 109). "If you do not repent," He warns, "you will all perish." Repentance is our initial participation in our redemption. The salvation Jesus offers is similar to Moses' burning bush. Though it's always there, only those willing to change their core values ever notice it.

Yet, lest we start to worry about "perishing," Jesus assures us of God's patience: "I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future." Biblical authors rarely speak of Yahweh or Jesus in either/or terms. They're more comfortable with both/and concepts. In this case, Jesus' God is both demanding and patient.

We can say the same about the things, situations and people we encounter in our everyday lives. They're both ordinary and exceptional, sacred ad profane. If God is the person "who is," then followers of God will discover God in "whatever is," especially the present.

(03-15-01)