Death is that mystery which transcends human experience and knowledge. Nobody knows a particular instance they may announce their passing, “It is finished!” Let us hold to that thought for a moment because we will revisit it in our discussion about the life of Moses, Paul, Jesus and the Christian saints.
Imagine you are Moses who received the saddest news of your death, that you will not enjoy fruits of liberation: “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ’I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see I’t with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it” (Deut. 34: 4).
Moses probably took it easy and looked away because he knew the ways of the Lord are different than our ways, and nobody could oppose God’s plan for a nation or being. Moses had a consolation though.
He had diligently done his job: building his great personal legacy (liberation of the Israelites from various types of oppression in Egypt and in the wilderness) and mentoring a great leader (Joshua the son Nun) who could take over from him to lead the people to the Promised Land.
Moses’ legacy remained unbroken for generations after his passing: “no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
Imagine someone gives this endorsement to any of our contemporary federal and provincial political leaders in 2019/2020. That will be awesome, won’t it?
Apostle Paul in our second reading talks about their apostolic accomplishments: “our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”
To Paul and his friends, death is not as distant as that of Moses. Their minds seem to have been prepared, as we may deduce from his allusion to their suffering and mistreatment in Philippi.
Note the change of tone and characterization of speeches about Moses and Paul. Moses’ achievements have been narrated through secondhand account. Paul, on the other hand, is pleading with the
audience, reminding them about his journey and relevance in the mission of the Church and how his audience should conduct themselves in a certain manner as a community of set apart for a mission.
Paul’s pleading sounds like what a new federal NDP leader would say about his experiences of discrimination, relative to other federal hopefuls. “Look, I have passed through difficulties, and I still respond with love and courage to those who discriminate against me because of how l dress up. Vote for me. I am the most appropriate candidate to move Canada to prosperity and diversity.”
Excuse my political distraction. I follow Canadian, Kenyan, US and South Sudan politics a lot.
The Gospel of Mathew picks up from what Paul and Moses have hinted led to their success in spreading the Gospel and taking people to liberty. That is, God protects His messengers.
However, there is a mob, a kind of a groupthink scenarios, againstJesus. From the outsider look, Jesus has united against himself the antagonistic groups whose different authorities and beliefs have been surpassed by Jesus’ new teaching about resurrection and observance of the laws.
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered and tested him.
Lawyer: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
This advice or instruction from Jesus has become the famous summary of the law that we Anglicans and Episcopalians cite at the Eucharist, and ask God to write these laws in our hearts.
The infamous story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) draws our attention to similar test about the knowledge of the Laws, and Jesus walked the expert of the law through about what is written, known:
Lawyer: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus: “What is written in the Law?” “How do you read it?”
Lawyer: ’“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
This is the second time the Pharisees test Jesus in the same chapter. The first time was about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus answered them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled and left him alone.
Now the Pharisees came back with a different question about the laws after they have seen Jesus has answered the Sadducees with similar keenness and wisdom.
More importantly, Jesus finished his answer to the Sadducees with pronunciation of the eternity of God, with patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the best example of the living: “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of lsaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
Together with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses has a great role to play in the representation of sainthood and eternal life. Let us connect some dots about the life ofJesus and Moses during the transfiguration on the mountain top. Moses mostly appears in the New Testament to represent the laws and the prophets. On the other hand, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
In one of the Advance Care Planning, we were asked to write down what we wished for if we had only few months to live. It was an informative session. There were many things we realized we had taken for granted until someone refreshed our minds about death, a great mystery that throws humanity into confusion. People gave different reasons.
Some wished to talk to those they have wronged or have wronged them – to put in practice the Lord’s Prayer stanza, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”
Others wished to spend lonely time with families and friends and enjoy some common activities and teachings about life lessons.
Others wished to leave behind great legacy, a significant message about the things they have done and wanted others not to do or the things they admired but have had no opportunity to do them.
These wishes had a common theme: self-reflection about the life lived and how it would look like when one is no more on this earth. At such a time, nobody thinks of impressing other people, but being ready to make a wish or foresee what the future may look like – a vision and mission.
A life of a saint or martyr is a life lived with a mission. That is what we can read from these passages. May we live like those who can be remembered for their great deeds after they are long gone.