Lent Meditation 3

  • (Refrain – Blessed is he who prepared the diligent through vigil, fasting, and prayer, and made them a vision for those who see in truth.)
  • 1 – Moses, great among those who fast, was armed by means of fasting. He took off the customs of the Egyptians and loved fear of God. He hated and despised milk and honey, with which the daughter of Pharaoh raised him, and he loved fasting and prayer, and thus was brought to perfection.
  • 2 – Moses, the head of those who fast, despised the bountiful table of Pharaoh. He threw away the pleasure of kingship, and loved fasting on the mountain. He fasted, and his face shone; he prayed, and his reward was celebrated. He ascended with a human appearance, and descended in heavenly splendor.
  • 3 – He ascended with an earthly appearance, and descended with the glory of the angels. He ascended a man like all others, and descended a faster without equal. This fasting atop the mountain became an April filled with beauties. Moses the shepherd went up and returned, and called upon the Name of God.

Lots to say about Moses in this one. Remember the context: Moses is up on a mountain fasting and talking to God while everyone else is down at the bottom partying and making metal cows to worship. The author (again, probably Ephrem) is reminding us that our context in this world doesn’t make a difference to our religious observances. We’re supposed to fast and pray, united to God, regardless of how much stupid fun everyone else is having.

So “head of those who fast” and “great among those who fast” isn’t in comparison to others who fasted, as if he’s greater than Jesus (who, you know, fasted), but is in relation to us who also fast. It’s not about a competition between Moses and Jesus, but the example of both of them to us. As Moses despised milk and honey in verse 1, we are to despise In N Out. By the way, “despise” doesn’t mean “hate.” It means “look down on.” It’s not that milk, honey, or two double-doubles animal style are evil horrible things; it’s that they’re not a big deal. Fasting isn’t about seeing things as evil, but as small in comparison to friendship with God. The sins we “give up” during lent aren’t the same category, because our intention isn’t to return to them.

The concluding idea in the second and third verses is that when Moses did this, he transformed. His face shone to the point where people couldn’t look at him anymore and he had to wear a veil on his face except when talking to God on the mountain. Two important things come to mind here: first, the thing that turned Moses into a glorious, shiny, angel-like, beyond-human being was a very ordinary thing: fasting and seeing the things of this earth as small rather than tempting and imposing. Contrast this with the morons (us?) at the bottom of the mountain making the metal cow and offering sacrifices to it like a bunch of morons.

Second, the veil on Moses’s face is referenced in the Chaldean liturgy in the prayer before the Our Father, when we ask to be able to speak to God “with unveiled faces.” In that simple phrase we’re asking for the grace to detach ourselves from the world enough to become like Moses and love God enough that our hearts become blindingly bright. This is why good translations are so important, and bad translations are so bad.

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