Moses had a rough go of it. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, there was the all-powerful God, who, though often mysterious, had very clear expectations. On the other hand, there were the people. They were good at pointing out the obvious and complaining. What were they doing in this desert? They were hungry and thirsty. They had plenty of food and drink in Egypt, plenty of fleshpots. Was this supposed to be a rescue? Were they going to survive this liberation? “Is God in our midst or not?” (Ex 17:7).
Going through the desert, the people needed constant reassurance. They needed to know God was with them, for peril and death surrounded them on all sides. It fell to Moses to give them heart. The miracle of the water from the rock (Ex 17:3-7) is about more than a drink. It is a sign of God’s presence among them. It refreshes their hope. The ultimate outcome was far from clear. Wandering in the desert, their rescue began to look half-baked. Was there really a plan? But water, flowing from a rock at the command of their prophet—well that gave them some confidence. Amazed, heartened in spirit, cupping their hands under the stone hydrant, you can almost hear them saying, “let’s stick with this guy.”
Mediating God’s word is a challenge. The world is full of on-demand fleshpots (many are comfy in a slavery to sin), while the church is going into a desert. Many of the faithful, troubled by scandal and the increasing cultural opposition, secretly wonder “is God in our midst or not?” To be a Moses in this time, to be one who announces God’s word today, so often means a ministry of encouragement, a ministry of hope. The people need refreshment. They need water in this desert. We know those waters come from Jesus, but we might also name them: not Meribah or Massah, but “Joy.”
St. Paul is famous for his joy (rejoicing even behind bars). His elation had one source, the Christ. Paul’s gladness was inexhaustible, and this was its spring: “Christ died for us.” Because Jesus was pierced upon the Cross, because the Rock was struck in the wilderness of the passion, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts” (Rom 5:5,8). Those waters are an endless source of rejoicing. Every evangelist, every Moses, must drink deeply of that gospel stream, to meet the Christ and rejoice. “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence” (Teilhard de Chardin). The joy of our ministers assures us that, despite the desert, God is in our midst. Joyful ministers are refreshing. They give people hope.