Two days ago the Mass readings were taken from Numbers 20:1-13 (Children of Israel’s journey to the desert) and Mt 16:13-23 (the rebuke of Peter). The first reading describes to us the attitude of the whole congregation of the children of Israel at the onset of human perils : how they, with great impatience and lack of faith, have contented with Moses and then the Gospel of that day speaks about the disposition of Peter when faced with the overwhelming plan of the Divine. I wonder what it was that made faith a difficult thing to have despite the miracles at hand.
The children of Israel have heard the voice of the Lord and yet their hearts were hardened. Faith was still hard to come by despite the multitude of miracles and even the little that they have was always ready to be thrown away at the slightest hint of discomfort. What it appears to me, this long journey to the promised land, is that, in a way, it is the longest direct conversation between God and his people. A testament of how difficult and arduous the path for a simple message of God to break through the barriers of human pride. And that goes the same with Peter, who had just professed his belief to the Lord can only utter, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Mt 16:22) at the moment of knowing what was the will of the Divine.
The miracles at hand were all easy to believe at but that which requires faith such as the the will of God is just something that is so foreign to the human understanding and acceptance. I wonder, for Peter, the children of Israel, and also myself, how much convincing and evidence does a creature need to put his faith in his creator?
Like them I have seen the power and glory of the Lord, I have come to believe but still no faith. Through Christ’s resurrection I believe that He parted the Red Sea of human mortality so that we may cross over death, that He had struck the foundation of the Church and from it flowed forth the baptismal water that frees us from the bondage of sin, and that on the cross He gave up His own life to offer us his body as the new manna. All these that we may have eternal life and yet whenever I thirst, hunger, and when faced with the slightest difficulty in life I ask why was I lead out of my ignorance to realize the sinful life I was living and the destructive life I was leading myself to only to suffer some more; to wrestle with the idea of how far I have to suffer in order to reach the “promised land” of my life. Many times I feel that the Lord would ask me: “…who do you say that I am?” and, like Peter, I would say, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God.” but still I find it hard to surrender myself that I may accept His will.
No one could have said it better than John Henry Newman when he wrote, “Faith is the gift of God, and not a mere act of our own, which we are free to exert when we will. It is quite distinct from an exercise of reason, though it follows upon it. I may feel the force of the argument for the divine origin of the Church; I may see that I ought to believe; and yet I may be unable to believe.”
Though I have all the reason to believe and put my fate in the hands of my creator, I am unable to believe because faith is not something that I can get out of my own accord. Faith is not a difficult thing to have because, to put it simply, faith cannot be had. It is neither reasoning and convictions nor personal cognition can give oneself the faith that one needs because it is for God to give and God alone. And since it is a gift then to have willingness to receive is the only thing that one can do on his own and that I think is what the children of Israel and Peter had a hard time possessing. It is not that they were on a complete loss of it but that what they have was never enough to push their belief beyond what they can see and experience. They, “…savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men” (Mt. 16:23)
The unforeseeable future will always be, on one hand, the biggest stumbling block but, on the other, the greatest opportunity to exercise our dependence to God who is our creator. It is in not knowing what the future holds that we may learn to discern things through the will of God and not of men. It is through the unknowable future that we can learn to surrender ourselves on the certainty of God’s love. And when we put our belief on the certainty of God’s love we become more willing to receive the faith… the faith that God have always wanted to give. The same faith that 40 years of journeying to the desert may not be enough should we continue to think of “things that are of men.”