23 July 2007 Monday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time
Exodus 14, 5-18 The Exodus
When I was young, many Christian communities would show the 1956 Cecil DeMille’s film, The Ten Commandments, as a fund-raising event or an appropriate film for the Holy Week. In my hometown in Camalig, Albay, I used to sit on the grass or the plaza’s floor watching mobile movies projected on a white wall or a screen. I remember the part when the Egyptians were pursuing the Israelites who panicked and didn’t know what to do. Moses, would calm the people, and exhort them not to fear. He would then go to an elevated place overlooking the sea and then stretch out his arms for the parting of the Red Sea. That was for me the climax of the movie; the scenes that succeeded did not have the same impact as the pursuit of the Hebrew slaves and the parting of the sea. The film became the template for the imagination when adults and children alike read and discuss the Exodus. The parting of the Red Sea won an Oscar for special effects. The cast of thousands was a first. The motion picture was grand.
But we never realized how difficult it was for the Israelites. We used to blame them for being so terrible, that they lack trust, that they questioned God, that they blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt only to die (“Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.”).
When we are in a predicament, we become like the Israelites who begin to question our faith and look for something or someone to blame like someone in leadership. When God leads us to a tight place, cornered and outnumbered, no person to turn to, overwhelmed, and intimidated, we find ourselves in panic and fear. This example is pertinent to our reviewees for the medical or bar exams: the enormous demand to read all the books before August or September is intimidating! Our tendency is to run, to fight or to tell everybody how difficult our situation is. The Red Sea in our lives is wide and uncrossable. And there is no solution in sight.
Moses understood the predicament of his fellow Hebrews. Except he tells them, “Fear not! Stand your ground. The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still.”
The counsel of Moses came as a surprise. How can you not fear? Or stand your ground? Or worse, keep still? But further reflection tells us today that this counsel to people in a predicament is wise. Usually, we cannot see solutions when our minds are confused and rattled. We cannot think outside of the box; we tend to take tried methods only to find that they are antiquated. When we calm ourselves down and keep still, our mind is freed from distractions. Our minds become elucidated and focused. We get to see the land bridge.
Furthermore, to stand our ground in the midst of a predicament is a wise counsel. St. Ignatius of Loyola tells us not to decide when on extreme situations or emotions: too happy, too sad, too lonely, too confused. But decide when on an equilibrium. When our minds are not inclined to either poles, our decisions tend to be balanced and correct. Because our minds are clear and calm. And all Red Seas are passable.