So Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went with the officials of Moab. God’s anger was kindled because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the road as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. The donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; so the donkey turned off the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the donkey, to turn it back onto the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it scraped against the wall, and scraped Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck it again. Then the angel of the LORD went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!” But the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you this way?” And he said, “No.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face. (Numbers 22:21-31 NRS)
(Image courtesy of lexchristianorum.blogspot.com)
You have to love the Old Testament. You have the Book of Numbers where a donkey speaks to its master and the master isn’t caught off guard in the slightest, he speaks right back as if this is normal. This passage always comes to mind when I think about how God chooses to reveal himself to us in differing ways. We don’t all receive the exact same vision, and sometimes we just have pieces that need to fit together into a bigger picture. Just how are we supposed to make that happen? We have to be in relationship with other. We do not have to be best friends, but we have to have respect for one another and be willing to be in community. There can be no discernment without the movement of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit seems to have a preference for those who act graciously towards others, preserve dignity of all, and actively seek to embody Jesus Christ in community.
We can be like Balaam, who already has a relationship with God when this passage occurs, and try to force the will of God to conform to our expectations and desires. He inquires of God and receives a message not to go to the king, Balak. Balaam keeps asking, as if he could ask enough that God would acquiesce. Finally God tells him to go, but explicitly tells Balaam not to curse God’s people as Balak wants. God is not pleased that Balaam is going, so he sends an angel to block Balaam’s path. Unfortuanetly, Balaam who has been looking at things from his own perspective rather than God’s, does not see this angel. His donkey does. The donkey acts with deference to the angel as a man of God should, while the man of God acts like a stubborn donkey.
We can spend so much time and effort trying to make things fit into our ideas of how things should be, and shape the world from our limited perspective, or we can be open to seeing the world as God would have us see. The problem comes when we have to rely on tohers to provide pieces of this divine perspective, to flesh out our image. We want to be the man of God and let everyone else play the donkey. For God, we are all people of God and we all have a contribution to make. When we try to take control and command, we just end up scraping our foot on the wall and wandering off the path. when someone we have known to be a faithful Christian, someone who has been good to the Church offers something that appear to contradict what we want, we need to be willing to pause and prayerfully discern what has changed. Just maybe they have been enlightened by God as to a new path we should be taking, new opportunity for mission we are being called to, or a new means of relating to the world in which we are called to serve. We can’t be quick to write them off as an “ass” and discount their contribution, their perspective, their voice.
Giver of Vision,
Endow us with the gifts of the Spirit,
That will allows us to have patience for others.
Open our eyes and our hearts to your voice in others.
May we work together to see your will for us as the Body of Christ.
Dissolve our ego through the waters of baptism which unite us in Christ.
When we work together, we combine our gifts and our resources.
Bless our endeavors to come together in community.
May our desire to enact the love and grace of Jesus,
Override our human impulses and desires.
Let it be for your honor and glory, O God.