We have all heard the expression, “Looking a gift horse in the mouth.” Strange as it may seem, it is possible to apply this to our relationship with God just as much as it applies to our relationships with people. Think for a moment about the gift of faith. Faith is a gift from God that is available to all people without exception. It is there for the taking. It is true that some of us have received this gift as a result of having been raised by parents who were men and women of faith. However, St. Bonaventure teaches us that the world is filled with “vestiges” of God’s creative genius that can lead anyone to faith if they are open and receptive to the gift.
As I was listening to and praying about the first reading from today’s liturgy from the Book of Numbers, my thoughts turned to my response to God’s gifts in my life, including the gift of faith. The Book of Numbers records that when the children of Israel arrived at the River Jordan after leaving the bondage of Egypt, they sent scouts to reconnoiter the land and its inhabitants. They had been assured by God that this was to be their home. Yet when the scouts came back to report what they had found, they decided that the people who were presently occupying the land were too big and too fierce for their little band. Although Caleb and Moses put their faith in God’s gracious gift, the bulk of the community decided that it was too dangerous for them to cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. As a result God let them wander in the desert until two generations had gone by. As a result almost all of the people who had left Egypt never settled in the Promised Land because they chose not to accept God’s gift.
Before we sit back and criticize the children of Israel for this decision, we might want to take a look at our response to God’s gifts. We have been given a voice with which we can praise God; do we use it for that purpose or do we choose to use our voices to criticize, demonize, scandalize or, as the Israelites did, murmur against God? We have been given a “garden” in which to live; do we cherish this garden or do we exploit its riches for profit? We have been given access to God’s mercy and forgiveness; do we utilize this gift or do we try to excuse our faults and failings or blame them on someone else? We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us in following God’s will; do we take the direction or do we choose our own way to go?
Are we perhaps “looking a gift horse in the mouth” when it comes to God’s many gifts? A good question for our examination of conscience, is it not?
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator