Monday of the 3rd Week of Advent
Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church
1st Reading NM 24:2-7, 15-17A
Gospel MT 21:23-27
I see him, though not now;
I behold him, though not near:
A star shall advance from Jacob,
and a staff shall rise from Israel. – Numbers 24: 17
Balaam, a prophet from the Desert Wanderings (early in the Old Testament), makes the startling prophecy from today’s 1st reading. It can be interpreted in several ways, ways that had a more immediate impact on Israel, but it certainly – at the same time – points to the coming of the Messiah.
I love the story of Balaam. It is both wondrous and sad. Balaam was known for his divinings and utterances – like an oracle. The Israelites were known for their fierce fighting, as they moved through different regions on their way to the Promised Land. When the king of Moab learned they were on the way to his region, he asked Balaam to come, for a substantial reward, and curse the Israelites. Yes, Balaam was powerful enough that he could bless and he could curse with his words.
God spoke to Balaam and told him that he should go to the king, but he should not curse the Israelites, for they were there by God’s appointment. Now, Balaam was not an Israelite, and so didn’t really know God, but he was strong in gifts of the spirit world, and took the words of this deity seriously.
Except….the king had offered all that reward….SO, Balaam decided maybe he would go and curse Israel. God sent an angel to stop Balaam, only Balaam didn’t see the angel with the sword. His donkey did, and three times kept Balaam from crossing the angel with the sword. Balaam, who didn’t understand why his donkey was being naughty, kept getting angry, until God allowed the donkey to speak to Balaam and tell him what was going on!
Balaam was astonished, and decided quickly maybe he really should follow the directives God gave him and NOT curse the Israelites. Balaam made this clear to the king, but the king believed his promise of reward would win Balaam over. Instead, Balaam three times blessed the Israelites, making the king angry. Balaam ended with the promise/prophecy of the Messiah quoted above.
Yet even after all he had witness – after his own donkey saved his life and spoke to him, after he saw and spoke to the angel of the Lord, after hearing and obeying the command of the Lord to not curse the Israelites, Balaam did not turn to the Lord. He appears to have continued to lead a life of wizard-for-hire, and even found a way to corrupt the Israelites without cursing them with words. He was killed when Moses commanded the Israelites to engage in battle with the Midianites, in order to purify the idolatry and sin the Israelites had – once again fallen into.
God can speak to and through any one. And no one is guaranteed salvation. God can literally send you a sign and you can still fall from grace. It requires a constant re-aligning of our hearts to God to remain faithful, not to mention grace and humility.
May we have the courage to not only hear God’s voice in our lives, but to follow His will in all things. May we have the strength to resist temptations that lead us away from holiness. And may we continue to prepare a place for the Christ child, who is coming soon!
Fun Fact: Today is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, mystic, poet, and doctor of the church. The concept of the “dark night of the soul” comes from his beautiful, mystical poetry. Make some time to read and reflect on his beautiful poem-prayers today. St. John of the Cross, pray for us!