"Then God said to Moses, 'This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… I have let you see it, but you shall not cross over.'" - Deuteronomy 34:4
Within spitting distance of the Promised Land, God tells Moses, "Sorry, you're not going." And Moses, who'd had no trouble quarreling with God for forty years, doesn't even protest. I'd be howling, "No fair! I deserve to go, I earned it!" But Moses just lies down and dies, so quietly you'd hardly notice.
And in a way, nobody does. The people mourn him, of course, but only for the required thirty days. We wept for Princess Di longer than that. But Moses or no Moses, the Israelites have a river to cross, a land to conquer, a life to organize. So for Moses there'll be no makeshift monument of flowers and cards, no candles in the wind. To this day, no one knows where he's buried.
The biblical God sometimes seems capricious and arbitrary, but there's one glorious constant in God—faithfulness to the people. From the burning bush to Pharaoh's house, from the Red Sea to the mountain of fire, in wilderness and wandering, Moses had trusted that glory. He knew that neither the route nor the river nor the land nor the people had ever been his. His grave could be forgotten, his leadership replaced, his name erased, and it would be all right.
For as Peter Gomes observed, we aren't here to own anything, but to receive everything; not to finish anything, but to participate in something. And if it seems unfair not to see the fruits of our labor, it is likewise an undeserved privilege that we get to labor at all.
Thank you that we don't own and we won't finish, and that you let us labor at all.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.