A Burden Too Heavy
Text: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Proper 21, B
10Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?
The other day I stopped to talk to a friend I happened to meet in my neighborhood. As we began to speak the people from a nearby house broke into a very loud and heated argument that ranged all over their front, back, and side yards. It was all so awkward that my friend and I cut our visit short and kept on moving. This passage seems very much like that scene – private laundry being aired for the whole world to become embarrassed by. The Israelites are miserable and pouting. God is fuming mad at the whole bunch (for good reason) and poor Moses caught in the middle lashes out at everyone … especially God!
But that’s what pain and suffering and frustration over a situation that can’t be or won’t be changed will do to a person – when we find ourselves at the end of our rope and the burden is just too heavy to bear. And so this jewel of a meltdown, this treasure of a tantrum vomit forth from Moses’ own lips: 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”
He had a job to do, but the very people God asked him to lead seemed intent on making that job impossible. I am sure that you have felt this way from time to time. God’s desire for our lives is not so difficult to understand, but actually being able to live up to His will when everything around us seems to be working full tilt against us? Impossible. All too often the burden of our problems are just too heavy to bear. And what’s worse is that this sinful world of ours just doesn’t care about your problems – even if they are the cause of them! So who are you going to complain to (or about) when your burden gets to be too heavy to bear?
But surely Moses should have known better! You might be tempted to think. Surely the pastor wouldn’t complain about us? You innocently demure. These men are supposed to be leaders and examples! Just like you are called to be leaders and examples of righteousness and faith to your friends, neighbours and family. And that’s why all this seems so embarrassingly awkward, because we know that our own dirty laundry is only ever one bad day from full public view.
Yet here is the thing, Moses, imperfect as he may be, still serves as a type (a foreshadowing, a picture) of Christ. Even in his all-too-human complaining he points, by way of contrast, toward Jesus the Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth. Moses intercedes for his people (as frustrated with them as he may be) even as Christ intercedes for us in our every grumbling need. And God listens to Moses even as He listens to His beloved Son.
Some of the afflictions (like murderous intent) Moses claimed to bear he may have exaggerated, but in Christ’s case it never was. He was indeed “smitten by God and afflicted” for the sake of the very ones who wanted Him silent or dead. Surely Christ bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, our fears and our frustrations, our failings and our doubts. Surely, Christ was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Not the least of which includes our tendency to grumble, complain and throw blame at everyone around us (God included). Surely, our government was upon His shoulder, with the full weight of that responsibility for a foolish and stiff-necked people like ourselves. What Moses may have tended to give up to hyperbole Christ actually and willingly endured through every angry encounter with frustrated religious leaders and hurting believers, all the way to the cross and the tomb! And while that burden was as monumental as the sins of all creation, it was never too heavy for Him to bear on your behalf.
16Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you... 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud ... and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied ... 29Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”
Notice how God shows such great kindness in such variety and abundance to a people bent only on complaining and blaming. He provides help for Moses seventy times over! The Lord is always exceedingly generous even in the face of our small and stingy nature. He, HE, is only ever good even in the face of so much ugliness.
That is why He continues to answer our mean and bitter spirit with His remarkable gifts of His Word and Sacraments. Providing for those who He loves even when they are acting unlovable. Granting forgiveness, life and salvation again and again and again. Lifting that burden which has become too heavy for us to bear alone. His ongoing patient answer to our never-ending bitterness and failings are these gifts of the Means of Grace from which we come to understand the one true gift they offer … His own dear Son, the very figure that Moses pointed forward to in faith.
Consider again Moses’ words: 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat. – a question of desperation and self pity, implying criticism of God and expecting a negative answer. Moses is a type of Christ, but he sure doesn’t sound like one here! But, had Jesus asked the same question there would have been no desperation or self-pity and not one lick of implied criticism of God His Father. And best of all the answer would have been a surprisingly positive one!
13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? Christ Himself supplied the answer. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven ... And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh ... For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink ... Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jo. 6:51-56) Or this answer from Christ: “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”(Mat 26:26-28).
The next time life begins to get you down, and the burdens begin to dog-pile on top of you to the point where you are ready to snap ... remember that you are not meant to carry them alone! God has given you His Holy Spirit, the means of grace, the compassion and care of these dear people gathered around you, and most especially, Jesus Christ Himself. Everything you are struggling with, He already bore for you to the cross. Everything that is threatening to drag you down and leave you for dead He left in the tomb when He rose on the third day. All that dirty laundry ready to embarrass you before the world? Washed clean in Holy Baptism! So let’s take a deep breath and praise the Lord!