In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?” –Ex 17:3-7
They’re full of doubt, confusion and despair. Many are thirsty for the meeting of basic needs and justice: the Israelites in the desert, Christians in our modern world, and all of humanity who has been impacted by oppression, natural disasters, war, violence, greed and all sin.
I wonder who is thirsty today? Who may feel abandoned and doubt if God is in their midst? I remember the union workers in Wisconsin. Their story and struggle has been swept behind Japan and Libya in the news headlines, but still has great meaning. If you haven’t heard, the law that prevents the Wisconsin civil workers from maintaining their bargaining rights was due to go into effect last weekend. Instead, the law is stalled in the courts, creating confusion about whether it has been enacted or not.
Like the Israelites, the unions of history were able to escape from slavery. We’ve all been liberated by God and unions for fair pay and hours, safe working conditions and proper benefits. I am so thankful for the justice that we have inherited from our union grandparents. The heroes and saints who freed us are not individuals, but entire communities.
Now our generation is wandering in the desert, not really sure what God is up to. The union story is not unlike our faith story. Although it sometimes takes a long time for things to be as they should, it doesn’t take long for us to take things for granted. It doesn’t take long for us to grumble against our leaders.
It’s easy to do this in political life and it’s very tempting to do this in faith life. When we’re faithful citizens, the messes mix together. The history of the union struggle reminds me I am proud to be Christian, specifically a Catholic. Sure our Church is a community diseased by our human sinfulness. But we are also a community of saints. I feel very grateful for the service and leadership of our bishops, especially in the labor struggle. I am delighted by the statements that have been made against oppression. And, in regard to the ongoing struggle in Wisconsin, my favorite part of the story is that the Catholic bishops made a public statement in support of the unions.
The Lenten season challenges us all. We realize our need for redemption, for Jesus and justice. We look in the mirror and read the news and then thirst for clarity, strong faith and strength. Our social sins are just as ugly as our personal ones.
In community we approach our dark struggles with actions of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In our politics and faith, we wake up and notice that we have much to be grateful for, and this feeds us with hope. We thirst for justice and then we remember we’ve been redeemed before, so we trust. The ugly shall turn into Alleluias, and we’ll have joy all around.
A version of this post was previously published on the Young Adult Catholics blog.
Photo credit: Inside Wisconsin’s Capitol http://www.flickr.com/photos/52421717@N00/5454861442/