Constancy and Change

12 August 2009. Wednesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 34, 1-12; Psalm 66; Matthew 18, 15-20


The death of Moses ends the Book of Deuteronomy. It consists of his final blessings on the twelve tribes of Israel before he takes his last breath. In the blessing, Moses gathers the tribes of Israel. Though the tribe of Simeon is missing, they are still twelve: Joseph’s tribe is divided into his two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Every blessing is different in form and content for each tribe, but they are brought together as an end to Deuteronomy. The tribes celebrate together the Kingship of Yahweh and the gift of the land.

After the final word of blessing, Yahweh shows Moses the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all their descendants. Moses gazes upon the vast lands on Mount Nebo, in the land of Moab. There, the great leader dies. He is buried in the “ravines opposite Beth-peor” but the reading said “to this day, no one knows the place of his burial.” One thing is worth mentioning. It is written that “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated” (34,7). Just as the Israelites celebrate Yahweh, Moses did not lose his gaze upon Him.

Heraclitus once said that change is the only thing constant: “Nothing endures but change.” Moses’ remarkable life is a series of constant reinvention: from an Egyptian prince to a murderer; an ordinary shepherd of the Midian desert to an extraordinary pastor of a nation. It is not a challenge to imagine the physical changes that he has to face: a diminishing energy and the emotional turmoils of leading a “stiff necked people” as he aged. But at the end of his life, what remains constant is what makes him a great person: His faithfulness to Yahweh. He gazes upon God, and because of this great love, his vigor and passion does not wane or vanish.

How do we emulate Moses? I think we need more than just a shallow reinvention of ourselves, like the present trends of make-overs and image change. It is not just an intellectual or a practical improvement or a professional recycling. It is not only about the stages and the life cycles we all undergo as we grow and carry out our activities. We must get into our depths. At our core is the Spirit that is constant, but seeks to adapt itself in every possible way to the environment. It means that there is first, a constant dedication, wherein our “inner eyes” are fixed on God, and we put all our efforts into a renewal of our spiritual, intellectual and practical lives. Our renewal will enable us to grasp and respond to the new realities of a world that is constantly changing. It will enable us to transmit the Word of God to the people of this particular and specific time --- the here and now. This is how we become relevant to the times. The process of being adaptability while being faithful to the Spirit is called creative fidelity.

It is through this deepening that we are able to integrate ourselves. In a deeper way, it is the message of the Gospel, that we have to reconcile not just with people who have been alienated to us --- or whom we have alienated --- but also to gather, like the twelve tribes of Israel, our broken pieces into a different wholeness. Hannah Arendt in her book, The Human Condition, said that we reconcile with our past through forgiveness. Forgiveness is needed for the undoing of mistakes of the past. In the perspective of death, we are able to let go of our lives easier when we know we are whole again. It is when we are faced with the reality of death (such as attending wakes & funerals, having life threatening experiences like a terminal illness) that we begin to think about what is important and what remains constant. In a wake, what people celebrate is what matters: as family, friendship and faith.

I love Jesuit funerals. When the cort├Ęge leaves the church, Jesuits would line up and clap as the coffin passes them. It is not just in praise of a remarkable life, but also to glorify the Lord who guided their life. The same thing when the coffin of President Corazon Aquino is being brought out of the Manila Cathedral, the congregation cannot help but give her a very long standing ovation.

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