June 11, 2017
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Walking over to the public library, I saw a panhandler’s discarded cardboard sign tucked behind a drainage pipe: Greed is the weed that strangles the garden, it said in bold sharpie. I repeated that to myself as I walked. Greed is the weed that strangles the garden. Greed is the weed that strangles the garden. It’s hot outside, mid-June in this city where I’ve only been living for a few days, and the trees and grassy spaces are a vivid, supersaturated green. Even the weeds are green. Greed is the weed that strangles the garden.
In this week’s first reading, Moses and the Lord are on Mount Sinai together in one of those foggy, dreamlike, transcendent conversations that are most often set on mountaintops. Moses says to God, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.”
Isn’t it strange that Moses invites the Lord down into the company of his people? It’s a wheedling, eager invitation; I think of Moses as the nerdy kid trying to invite the unbearably elegant upperclassman to his party.
Why would Moses need to invite God? Surely God can just decide to show up whenever she feels like it. But I love his invitation for two reasons. For one, it’s an endearingly human impulse (Moses, too, wants the cool kids to come to his birthday party). But it’s also sweet to humanize God like this. I imagine God as the newcomer at school hanging back, waiting for an invitation to join the fray.
I’m also struck by Moses’s comment about the “stiff-necked people” (presumably he’s including himself in that number?). I love how that’s the condemnation he chooses. Not something about how they’re adulterers or thieves or liars but just that they are stiff-necked. They look down their noses. They don’t incline their heads to listen or turn to the side to help a stranger. Their eyes are focused straight ahead, looking toward their own goals. They never bend to the needs of the other.
Greed is the weed that strangles the garden. A stiff-necked people is greedy, self-righteous, selfish. A stiff-necked people does not bend to see the beggar at the roadside with a cardboard sign. A stiff-necked people walks past the beggar (with his duffel bag and mangy dog) and so perhaps fails to notice that God has already come into their midst. Maybe God’s just sitting by the edge of the hot summer road, waiting to be invited into their company.