Applying the New Testament Fulfilment of the Old Testament to our Lives Today
David Barrow FAITH Magazine May-June 2009
Father David Barrow is Parish Priest of Clapton, London
If we could eavesdrop on Jesus' conversation with Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor what would we hear? Luke uses a very specific Greek word 'exodus' to refer to their topic of conversation. This word is a highly loaded word, referring to the liberation of the people of Israel from Egypt. At their feast of the Passover, the Jewish people 'remember' this event in a way which is not simply a recalling of the event to memory. Rather its is a remembering and proclamation of the past action of God is history, such that the power and presence of God which was working in that past action, in this case the exodus from Egypt, is made present in the here and now. This presence of God is also a dynamic presence, not a static one, one which calls those who celebrate Passover to becaught up in the same movement, i.e. a leaving behind of the slavery of Egypt in order to journey to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey, there to enjoy the freedom and joy of being God's chosen people. Christ understood his own passion in terms of the Passover. Just like Moses, he comes as the leader who is going to lead us out of the slavery to sin, into the promised land of a new relationship with the Father. The Transfiguration gives us a window into this end point of our journey. All that we need to experience this saving action of God this Eastertide, is the willingness to move, to change, to grow -to be transfigured - he will do the rest. The event of the exodus is also an allegory of the spiritual journey which we too are making under the guidance of theHoly Spirit. Here is a quick synopsis of the main stages of this journey.
When Israel first went down to Egypt to take refuge from famine, all went well. The Jews prospered, and entered into a cosy relationship with the Egyptians. Then with a change of the King, things started to go wrong, they became slaves. This is a perfect image of sin, which begins with many small compromises, since at first it appears attractive, but which later on enslaves, and in the end brings emptiness, dejection, frustration, bondage. Still God could not act too soon to help them, because the people may not have been willing to leave Egypt, preferring the slavery and drudgery of Egypt to the risk of striking out across the desert to the promised land. In fact the coming of Moses makes their situation worse. Again as regards the slavery to sin, often it is only when we experience theconsequences of sin with a certain intensity that we are humble or docile enough to allow ourselves to be led out of it by God. So they leave Egypt, and even so they need some convincing! The ten plagues. Often God has to give us some charismatic experience or perform some tangible sign, a miracle, for us to get moving.
Next comes the crossing of the Red Sea, a pre-figuration of the sacrament of Baptism. Having decided to let the Hebrews go, Pharaoh changes his mind, and starts to chase after the Hebrew people, he wants his 'free workforce' back. He catches up with them and they are eventually trapped between his army and the Red Sea. On the spiritual journey the same thing happens, when we begin to take God's call
seriously, thousands of obstacles will suddenly appear. Do not be a fanatic? Your friends will say. You cannot change? And so on. God said to the Israelites, and to us, at this point, 'be still, I will do the fighting for you''. He opens the Red Sea allowing the Israelites to pass through, but drowning their enemies. The people then rejoice at their new found freedom, at seeing their foes drowned.
Having dealt with the Egyptians, God proceeds to purify the hearts of the Israelites. God brings them into the desert. Their joy soon evaporates! At this stage many decide that the spiritual journey is too hard and turn back. The 'old man', who lives in our hearts reasserts himself. This desert stage of the journey confronts this 'false self and brings our secret motivations, our ideas of happiness, to the light. Though God was abundantly providing for all their needs, the Israelites were always unhappy! They continually grumbled against Moses. Read the book of Exodus, Moses was lucky many times not to be stoned to death by his own people.
This hidden, unconscious, spiritual slavery of the people of Israel, was far greater than the physical slavery of Egypt. It took 40 years to deal with. One Rabbi puts it like this, 'it took God three days to get Israel out of Egypt, but it took forty years to get Egypt out of Israel?' In their 430 years in Egypt, symbol of the world, the chosen people had in all but name, become Egyptians at heart. Christianity faces the same challenge today. The Hebrews had absorbed the culture and internalised the values of the surrounding Egyptian culture. Another Rabbi said that God had to act fast at this point, not only to save these people from slavery, but also because his plan for the salvation of the world, passed through these Hebrew slaves, and if they were left any longer in Egyptthis plan would be beyond repair, since the Hebrews were in danger of succumbing to the infamous immorality, decadence and paganism of the Egyptians. Then their Abramic origins would become unrecognisable, and they would sink into the morass of Egyptian society and disappear.
Finally, after forty years in the desert, the people are ready to begin the conquest of the promised land. The first Joshua had the task of dispossessing the seven nations occupying the promised land. Joshua is Hebrew for Jesus, and Jesus, the new Joshua, has the task of dispossessing the seven nations, the seven deadly sins living in each of us, and making of us temples of the Holy Spirit.
Where are you in this journey? Are you in still in Egypt, the place of slavery? Have you crossed the Red Sea? Are you in the place of purification, the desert? Have you tasted the fruits of the promised land? The true Joshua, Jesus, is passing calling us to follow him, will you have the courage to respond?