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Moses showing the promised land to the people
Moses and the People

There is a common misconception that leaders are fearless individuals. However, in reality, fear plays a significant role in leadership. Fear is a primal emotion that internal or external factors can trigger. While sometimes fear may be out of our control, there are also instances where it is just in our minds. Fear signals that there may be a real danger. When a threat is genuine, fear is also genuine, but when it is a product of our imagination, it is only a perceived fear.

Fear can also be rational when a threat is real and imminent. This occurs when faced with a life-threatening situation like the fear of being stabbed, dying, losing someone, etc. There are also situations where fear is primal. This mainly has to do with phobias, like claustrophobia (fear of confined space), arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), etc.

We also have an irrational fear. It is the fear of things that do not make logical sense. In this type of fear, the individual wonders why it exists because some parts of the brain understand there is no danger, whereas the other part keeps reacting. A good example is the fear of a ghost or clown. In numerous instances, the person understands there is no danger to their life, yet they can’t control their feelings.

These three types of fear can be classified into natural and conditional fear. Natural fears are born within us, like fear of a dangerous animal and specific places. Conditional fears come from negative experiences and cause anxiety and avoidance. Once we have a negative experience, our brain associates similar circumstances with the same outcome, leading to irrational responses.

In today’s readings, we meet with two communities and their leaders facing some vital fears. In the Gospel of Matthew, with the beheading of John the Baptist in chapter 14, Jesus knew that his hour was drawing near. Starting from that moment, the tone of Matthew’s Gospel changed, as Jesus was facing threats sporadically. When the Pharisees are not testing, him, the Sadducees are questioning him. When the Apostles are not doubting, they manifest no strong notion of who they are.

And as a good leader, the greatest fear is not the one that comes from without, but the ones within. The former can be easily avoided, but the latter keeps following the fear-gripped individual. In today’s reading, Matthew 16.24-28, we read about the new way Jesus taught his disciples since he decided to go to Jerusalem. His days are numbered, and the disciples seem oblivious to the looming danger. So, there is no more question of mincing words if he must succeed in his mission of preparing them for the tasks ahead. Being a disciple of Jesus is no longer a question of admiring his miracles and witnessing his intriguing teachings, but intentionally following the new way. Henceforth, it is either they follow him, or they do not:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take their cross, and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their lives for my sake will find it. Those are words of a leader who is afraid of his disciples’ future, and a thing of fear for disciples who want to follow a leader with solid conviction.

In the first reading, Deuteronomy 4.32-40, we encounter another fear gripped leader. Moses, the author(s) of Deuteronomy, informs us has been notified will not enter into the promised land:

“The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. 22 I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan” (4: 21-22).

So, gripped with the fear of what will happen to his community, he must sound loud and clear. They cannot waste what was gotten with the blood of their ancestors. He also perceived the fear of his community and needed to reassure them of God’s steadfastness. Thus, he addressed the Israelites and asked them to reflect on the history of humanity. He urged them to inquire throughout the heavens and earth if there had ever been an event as remarkable as what they had experienced. He questioned if any nation had ever heard the voice of a god speaking from a fire and survived.

In brief, in today’s first and second reading, the word of God reminds us that being frightful is not always a weakness on the side of a leader. A community facing the fear of their future is not a weakness. However, they should never forget that in no history has any God been as faithful as the God that guides his people through fears and threats.

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Moses' Siblings Contest his authority

In today's first reading (Numbers 12.1-13), we are presented with the story of Moses and his siblings, who had doubts. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” Is this narrative a story of doubting siblings, or a nation questioning itself? It's easy to jump to conclusions and assume that jealousy was the root of their behaviour, but perhaps we should take a step back and consider what may have caused their reactions. In this text, I attempt to approach this narrative from different perspectives. Indeed, if you haven't previously viewed this passage as the story of siblings who were envious of their brother's close relationship with God, know that you are not alone. But, if you have always seen it from that angle, let’s take a second look at it.

First, what if we change our viewpoint from the wrongdoings of Moses' siblings and instead consider Moses an Israeli Patriarch whose decision affects the entire nation? Second, if we read the text as a group of people questioning their ancestors' choices, would some individuals question Moses' decision to marry an Ethiopian? Then, for some, wouldn't it be ironic if Moses, who was raised in Egypt, married outside his own tribe, despite his own injunction against intermarriage (as stated in Deuteronomy 7:3)? “Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons”.

While the Bible isn't a linear (chronological) history book, it can depict significant moments (Kairos) in a community's life. The book of Numbers, for instance, doesn't follow a strict chronological order, but instead documents crucial events in the life and history of God's people. It emphasizes the repercussions of the Israelites' lack of faith and disobedience towards God. Its purpose was not just to record past events, but also to reflect on their present impact and how they could affect the future survival of the community.

So, why recounting the events that led them to the promised land, they might not have ignored the decision of one of their indispensable patriarchs – Moses. This is why it might be essential to look at this passage not simply as the dissent of siblings, but as the re-establishment of a patriarch who violated a rule set by himself. Therefore, by stating that God punished Myriam (alone, even though Aaron also criticized his brother), the authors established God’s approval of Moses’ marriage.

Finally, this reinterpretation does not negate the event the text is narrating, as Myriam might represent the entire Israeli’s continuous antagonization of Moses and God. Yet, Moses's outright marriage to an Ethiopian puts his allegiance to his nation in danger and goes against the law not to marry outside the people. The passage, thus, quells any assumption that Moses – raised Egyptian – marrying an Ethiopian could mean that an apple does not fall far away from the tree.

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When preaching about Jesus’ transfiguration, preachers often emphasize his Sonship, as highlighted by the proclamation, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” However, I believe this view is limited. Throughout history, including in Matthew’s time and today, there has always been an ongoing debate about the status of believers in a constantly evolving society.

As a matter of fact, while Matthew was quoting this, he was mainly emphasizing the significance of reaffirming Christ’s Sonship to establish the lineage of Christians. In other words, Christ’s Sonship in the transfiguration narrative is an introduction to the filiation of the disciples. The events that followed immediately speak a lot about this. As Jesus and the disciples were coming down, Jesus met a disappointed father whose child the Apostles were unable to heal. And there, Jesus was indignant because he understood the Apostles did not grasp who they were, for they were unaware of their filiation to God through Jesus’ Sonship. The next chapters of Matthew are full of such teachings about the importance of those who believe in him.

But further than the simple Matthean presentation of God’s liberation project through the transfiguration of his son is the meaning the entire three readings of the Transfiguration Sunday offer us. Both the first and the second readings are texts exalting bewildered communities trying to figure out the presence of God in their messed-up Societies.

For example, in the first reading (Dan. 7:9-10, 13-14), Daniel speaks to his co-exiled compatriots about the justice of the Son of Man. Due to their fear, they lost their sense of self and became disoriented. So, Daniel stepped in to show them the way forward, guiding them through Nebuchadnezzar's devilish reign.

Although King Nebuchadnezzar claims to be a god, Daniel explained, I had a dream which showed One resembling a Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven. As he approached the Ancient One and was brought before him, this Son of Man received dominion, glory, and kingship. People of all nations and languages now serve him, and his dominion shall last forever without any threat of being taken away or destroyed (10, 13-14). For Daniel, it is, again, more about the community than it is about the Son of Man. The Israelites should remember who they are and which God they serve. Therefore, though in exile, they should remember they are a free people for God manifests—the appearance of the Son of Man — not to be admired, but to liberate the captives and the exiled.

Moreover, Peter engages the same topic more directly. In the second reading, 2 Pt 1:16-19, Peter engages his contemporaries. Considered to be the last book of the New Testament (around 120 AD), the second Peter addresses believers who find the delay of the Lord’s coming troubling. In the passage chosen today, the author tries to establish the Apostolic origin of his teaching.

“Beloved: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

In other words, we are not like these Gnostic theoreticians and adoptions who speculate about the nature of Jesus and his sonship. We deal with facts and not myths because we speak of what we saw with our eyes — “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (1, 18). Christ is the Son of man, and we are his brothers and sisters.

For this reason, the author focuses not on Jesus but on the obstacles believers encounter due to teachings and laws enacted by some religious leaders and society’s mockery of their beliefs. So, they should not be discouraged by the seeming darkness looming over the Church. Rather, they should hold fast and look upon the Morning Star — Jesus (Rev. 2, 28) — rising in their heart.

“You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (1, 19).

To summarize, the Transfiguration feast does not solely celebrate Christ’s divine sonship, but also the liberation of believers who are connected to God. Therefore, the Transfiguration is a declaration of freedom brought about by God’s divine actions through Jesus of Nazareth.

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