I presume that the first reading (Exodus 17 8-13) either shocked you or bored you. It may be boring because of the many Hebrew names, and it is certainly shocking because of the war and the violence and the fights it tells. A shocking, a displeasing story read on a Sunday in Church. On a Sunday!
Wouldn’t it be good to leave the difficulties and quarrels and conflicts out of the church? Wouldn’t it be good to be left in peace at least on a Sunday? Well, the opposite is the message of our first reading: Leave out conflicts from church would be like living in an ivory-tower. No, no realm of our life must be excluded from our service to God, everything needs to be brought before God, before his healing presence. Everything – and certainly our reality as it is needs to be brought before God. Our reality that is marked by crises and wars and violence.
Isn’t it amazing what the Jewish people wrote down in their holy book? They did not keep quiet about anything that happened to them. We heard today about the battle of Amalek – was this just out of an historical interest that it was written down? No, I think that the people of Israel experienced God’s presence in their misery, God helped them, God was with them. And they kept this experience alive for the future generations by writing it down in their holy book. Only if you recall the past you can help the future generations.
The German people has been trying to live up to this: never forget the Nazi terror, the Shoah so that the future generations are not caught by the same trap in the future. In 1985, Richard von Weizsäcker, then president of the Federal Republic said: „Das Geheimnis der Erlösung heißt Erinnerung“ – “the secret of redemption lies in remembrance“ - – by this he quoted Jewish writings.
Weizsäcker continued: “This oft quoted Jewish adage surely expresses the idea that faith in God is faith in the work of God in history. Remembrance is experience of the work of God in history. It is the source of faith in redemption. This experience creates hope, creates faith in redemption, in reunification of the divided, in reconciliation. Whoever forgets this experience loses his faith.” This is what Weizsäcker said 34 years ago. So, our story wants to help future generations.
But isn’t our story from the Book of Exodus a glorification of war? No, certainly not. The battle is not decided by the men who fight, but by the presence of Moses on a mountain. This presence of Moses obtains God’s help. Moses is a holy man – but nevertheless he needs help, he needs the solidarity of others to persevere in his effort. The victory comes from God, from Yahwe. This is what Israel should retain from this story. New attacks, new difficulties, new dangers are to be expected – but yet, behind this reality there is the promise God made, the promise that he would be near and true to his people. The promise that his people will thus survive.
So the story we heard is a story of encouragement: remembering the misery and distress of the past the people can put their hopes in God. And – what is more practical for us today – remembering the misery of the past shows how necessary solidarity is: be at the sides of the ones whose hands begin to sink, support the ones whose strength vanishes, whose courage decreases. Then our story becomes a story of perseverance by lifting up your heart and hand so as to never lose faith and courage - because of the experiences made with God.
Wolfgang Felber SJ