As we enter a new season of Sunday school and Bible Study, here are a batch of answers to bible tests – let me add not given by Merrick/Freeport children and youth:
The first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple. Ancient Egypt was old. It was inhabited by gypsies and mummies who all wrote in hydraulics. Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandos. He died before he ever reached Canada but the commandos made it. Then Joshua led the Hebrews in the battle of Geritol.
Tests. They are a part of everyday life. Doctors order all sorts of tests to make sure our health is fine. We must pass driving test in order to get a license. There are myriads of tests for school – from the ERBS for the nursery school set, PSATs gives usually 10 or 11th graders a benchmark to study for the SATS. There’s the GRE for graduate studies, the GMATS, LSAT, MCATS, and a myriad of other professional and occupational exams students must pass in order to practice in their chosen field. It is estimated that the test prep and tutoring industry runs a hefty price tag of 2.5 billion dollars a year to deliver our youth to their school of choice. Testing doesn’t end there –companies run field tests on their products to assure their success in the marketplace. Tests are a part of our lives.
Testing is not just a part of our social and physical life – it is part of our spiritual life. Proverbs 17:2 reminds us “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts” We also discover in today’s lessons, that people turn the tables to test their spiritual leaders and ultimately God.
Today we still find ourselves journeying with the people of Israel on their trek out of Egypt, the land of their slavery, led by God through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. It has been a hard and dangerous time, the people are once again thirsty and they begin their usual complaining, with their litany of “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” It’s beginning to sound old and worn out, isn’t it? God has provided deliverance, water, manna, quail, and yet again they find themselves in need, and instead of asking nicely, remembering God’s faithfulness, once again fall back on complaining.
At this point, Moses experiences their complaints as testing. As circumstances continue to be hard, are they doubting his leadership? Are they having second thoughts? Again? Are they blaming Moses for a situation he didn’t create and is out of his control? Moses is at his wit’s end, and cries out to God, “what do I do with them? They are about to stone me.” They are ready to kill their leader even though he is doing exactly what he is supposed to. They in fact had not learned to be gracious, to have faith, so they find in Moses an easy scapegoat. They fail the test of faithfulness. They are taking the focus away from their own spiritual deficiency and placing the blame on Moses. How convenient.
The people, in their immaturity and fear, test Moses and test God. Are you going to take care of me? Are you going to give me what we want? Why are you delaying God? Like a lot of immature people, the people of Israel, cannot tolerate delay or any experience of discomfort. They cannot self-reflect. They are stuck in a spiritual babyhood where they want everything done for them. There is no growth. There is no ability to be in true relationship because they continue to act as slaves to the past. They are failing the test.
We also see Jesus tested in a similar way in the temple. He is approached by the chief priests and elders of the people. Earlier in Matthew’s chapter 21, The temple leaders in today’s text were not in the mood for tests. They didn’t want to hear what Jesus had to say. To them Jesus was just a trouble maker. Matthew tells us that before this heated debate, Jesus had just overturned the tables of the money changers and drove out of the temple those who were buying and selling – the people who made it difficult for the ordinary person and the poor to afford their sacrifices.
Jesus heals the blind and the lame; the chief priests and elders of the people saw “all these wonderful things,” Jesus is doing, and they hear the children shouting out “hosanna to the Son of David.” Their response? They were indignant. Like the people of Israel, they have a slave mentality to the past. They are enslaved to the rigid rules and way of life that put them in charge. They are threatened by the liberation that Jesus brings. So, they test Jesus – hoping to draw out his errors and discredit him. “By What authority are you doing these things Jesus?” “Who Gave you this authority?” In doing so they wanted to trap Jesus so they could arrest him. So, they ask Jesus this question, “By whose authority do you do these things?” Who said you can turn the tables, Jesus?
Jesus exposes the duplicity hidden in their hearts. Jesus confronts them: they were witnesses to the way of righteousness that John the Baptist testified to. They saw it. Yet they did not change their minds and believe. Here was Jesus, bringing “living water” in the Temple as surely as the water that sprang forth when Jesus could have answered them easily. His authority came from God, the Father. However, Jesus knew these leader’s motives were not sincere. They only cared about their lost of revenue, power and their pride. They didn’t care about the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Their hearts were hardened and closed, just like the people of Israel in the desert. So, Jesus cornered them with this test:
“Does the baptism of John come from God or people?”
The Temple leaders found themselves in a corner. Either response would get them in trouble: “If we say John’s authority came from God, then he’ll ask us why we don’t believe him. But if we say John’s authority is of human origin, we’ll get in trouble with the crowd, because they believe John was a prophet.” These leaders weren’t interested in truth. So, in their answer they played it safe, stayed on the fence. “We don’t know” was their reply. They failed the test.
These leaders were putting forth tests, but tests not to grow in truth but to keep their heart closed to God. They couldn’t see the divine acting in Jesus. Jesus gave them another incomprehensible test, scandalous to their ears: how sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors, who responded to the message of repentance and mercy, were more righteous before God then these religious leaders.
God tests us. As surely as the people of Israel were tested, as surely as the elders and chief priests were tested, so are we. God tests us to lead us to be more than we realize we are. To expand our ability to love, forgive, care and to serve.
Some may feel God is unfair to test us so. Like testing Eve. Like testing Jacob or Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. Like with Job. Or Paul. We tend to think of God like the punishing teacher in the sky, concocting painful experiences to see how we will fare. James reassures us: “For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:3” All of life offers tests and challenges. There are times we will fail and times we will succeed. Hopefully, we come to realize that while we may not have no control over the challenges that enters our life, we do have a choice in how we are to respond.
I know people who respond to success – some cling to their accomplishments and refuse to share; others see their success as such a blessing that they use it to make the lives of others better. I know people who respond to every adversity with negativity and pushing people away, cursing God, blaming others. I also have encountered people who amazingly, who despite their trials, continue to reach out to others, and try to find something good. In there, lies freedom. We learn to love God, and express love, in every circumstance and trial and test we face, and in spite of the injustices that continue to be perpetuated on earth. We let God be God and allow divine presence to be here without the conditions we would place.
So relax. It’s only a test. It will be repeated until we get it right. Until our hearts open and we trust, we learn to love, we agree to serve. We open our eyes and see the wonderful things Jesus is doing in our midst – and with faithful hearts proclaim, the Lord is with us. Then will celebrate that we have passed the test. Amen.