Sermon: Lent 3 RCL C – “Colon or Period?”

In about 512 B.C., as Darius I of Persia led his armies north of the Black Sea, the Scythians sent him a message comprised of a mouse, a frog, a bird, and five arrows. Darius summoned his captains. “Our victory is assured,” he announced. “These arrows signify that the Scythians will lay down their arms; the mouse means the land of the Scythians will be surrendered to us; the frog means that their rivers and lakes will also be ours; and the Scythian army will fly like a bird from our forces.” But an adviser to Darius provided a different interpretation: “The Scythians mean by these things that unless you turn into mice and burrow for safety in the ground or into frogs and hide in the waters or into birds and fly away, you will all be slain by the Scythian archers.” Darius took counsel and made a hasty retreat!

According to the International Bible Society, “As of 2020, the full Bible has been translated into 704 languages. The New Testament has been translated into 1,551 languages and parts of the Bible have been translated into 1,160 additional languages.” (Source) Within the English language alone, there are over 100 complete translations: ESV, NIV, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NLT, and an E I E I O. Deciding on which translation is right for you can prove to be challenging, but what we must understand about them all is that while each is seeking to convey the truth, they are all interpretations of the original. The original Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the original New Testament was written in Greek. The correct translation of these ancient languages is difficult enough, but what makes them even more so is that neither of these original languages uses punctuation when writing (no commas, periods, question marks, etc), and the Hebrew texts did not even use vowels. Bottom line: to read the original Bible texts, you are going to have to be an amazing linguistic scholar and even then, you will not likely be able to translate the text perfectly. So we pray that the Holy Spirit has guided each person who has undertaken such a task so that what is given to us is as God intended. All that to ask you one question about our Old Testament lesson: should it be a colon or a period? I’ve highlighted for you the sentence in question.

“I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you [colon] when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

The colon right there in about the middle is what caught my interest. Is it correctly punctuated or should it be a period?

As we read, Moses saw the burning bush and went up on the mountain to behold this marvelous sight. There, the Lord told him that he has heard the cry of his people Israel and that he is sending Moses to call them out of captivity. The Lord said to Moses, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And then our sentence: “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

“… this shall be the sign…” If in the sentence it is a colon, then the sign to be given is Moses bringing the people out of Egypt and worshipping on the mountain, but… if that colon is supposed to be a period, then the sign is, “I will be with you.” And everyone says, “Fr. John, you’re splitting hairs this morning,” but not really, because you see, if it is a colon, it is about what Moses will do, but if it is a period, it is all about what God will do.

We know that Moses had been a prince of Egypt, but now he is a shepherd. Not only that, he is a murderer, a runaway, and as he will soon confess that he don’t talk so good. Is that the kind of person that can free an entire nation? Not likely. We also know that in the next chapter, God will have Moses cast down his staff and it will turn into a snake. When God tells him to pick up the snake by the tail, it reverts to a staff. Then God tells Moses to place his hand inside his cloak and when he pulls it out it is covered in leprosy. When he repeats the process his hand is healed. Question: what part did Moses play in either of those two events? Other than doing what he was told: nothing. It wasn’t about what Moses could do, it was about what God could do through him: a weak sinful man.

I’m not a biblical language scholar. I got through Greek and Hebrew, but we all get lucky on occasion. That said, I believe that the verse should actually be two sentences… no colon because all that Moses said and did was to reflect what God was doing through him. God being with him was the sign. What happens later only confirms this.

It was when all the Israelites were at Meribah. They were complaining to Moses that there was no water, so the Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” However, instead of speaking to the rock, “Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.” By speaking to the rock, it would have been a clear sign that God was working through Moses, but by striking the rock with his staff, Moses made it appear that it was he who had accomplished the miracle. For this, the Lord counted it against him and Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land.

The Lord told Moses to get down to Egypt land and tell old Pharoah, “Let my people go.” Moses responded, “But who am I. I’m a shepherd, a murderer, and my tongue gets tied.” God said to Moses, “Yes you are and yes it does, but I will be with you, and me being with, doing such marvelous works through you, will be a sign to everyone that I AM is with you. That the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of your forefathers, is with you.”

We see Moses as this giant of a man. A man who talks to God. A savior of Israel, the one who parts the waters, but all that Moses ever did was only accomplished because of his willingness as a weak and sinful man to allow God to work through him.

Question: what does that tell you about yourself? In his weakness, the Apostle Paul cried out to the Lord and the Lord responded, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore [Paul says] I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá says, “You realize you are weak. And so indeed you are. In spite of that — rather, Just because of that — God has chosen you. He always uses inadequate instruments, so that the ‘work’ will be seen to be his.” (The Way #475)

Gather up all your weaknesses and place them at God’s disposal then witness—not how weak you are—but how mighty He is.

Let us pray: (in honor of St. Patrick, part of an old Irish prayer that you can make your own)
As I arise today,
may the strength of God pilot me,
the power of God uphold me,
the wisdom of God guide me.
May the eye of God look before me,
the ear of God hear me,
the word of God speak for me.
May the hand of God protect me,
the way of God lie before me,
the shield of God defend me,
and the host of God save me.

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