Their job was to show up at one meeting - just ONE! They didn't have to chair the meeting. They didn't have to make a powerpoint presentation at the meeting. They didn't even have to speak at the meeting. They just had to show up.
But somehow, these two jokers - Eldad and Medad - couldn't get it together even to do that! While everybody else was at the meeting with Moses and Joshua, these two were wandering around in the camp. The Book of Numbers doesn't tell us why. All it says is that "they were among those registered", so they knew they were supposed to be there. But they just didn't show up.
Now, in their defense, they probably didn't have any practice in showing up for these kinds of meetings, since Eldad, Medad, Moses, Joshua and everybody else was facing an entirely new and different situation in their lives, and nobody really knew how they were going to deal with it.
This story from Numbers is just after Moses has led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. And now they're in the wilderness, on the way to the promised land. But they're not there yet. And already, the stress of the journey is starting to show.
They're free! And that's great! But they're in the desert. And they don't have food. And they don't have water. And they don't have cell service, so Google maps is useless!
And in their lifetimes, they'd never had to organize themselves and manage a common life that didn't have the structures and resources of the life they had just come from. And even though many of those structures were oppressive (after all, they had been slaves), and many of their resources relatively meager, they still knew what they could rely on. And they knew how to manage things. But now life was completely different. They were in unknown territory, both physically and emotionally.
So conflicts began, and Moses was at the end of his rope. So Moses complained to God, and God told him to gather 70 "elders" (which meant people who were respected and trustworthy), and to bring them to the tent of meeting. Then, those 70 would help Moses begin to organize a new way of life as the people continued their journey.
But truthfully, neither Moses, nor the 70, nor Eldad and Medad, really knew what this would entail. Nothing like this had ever been tried before. And so, you can maybe understand why even that one meeting slipped the minds of a couple of people.
And yet, that meeting was important, not because of the meeting itself, but because it was the first step in living into a new reality - a new way of life that was at once promising (because they were free) and kind of scary (because life had suddenly and dramatically changed) and nobody was really sure how to move forward.
And at first, this first step seems like a big mess. Eldad and Medad don't show up. Joshua gets mad. And we're not even told the details of the meeting! But upon closer inspection, what DID happen was that:
- Eldad and Medad ended up being part of God's plan, even though they couldn't quite get with the program ... (the Spirit still rested on them, and they did what God had in mind, even if not according to the established plan...)
- Joshua and the others at the meeting began to see that God was still able to help them move forward, even when things were messy and not coming together exactly the way they thought things should ...
- The people of Israel kept moving forward towards the promised land, even though things were still tough, and even though (at least as far as we can tell) they didn't get any better insight into how long the journey would take, or exactly how they were going to deal with the fact that they were still in the desert, with thin supplies of food and water, and surrounded by snakes...
Jesus' first disciples faced the same situation in today's Gospel reading. They had been following Jesus and seeing Jesus do some pretty incredible things. But now, Jesus had been telling them that they were heading to Jerusalem, and that he was going to die and be raised three days later. They clearly didn't know exactly what that meant, but I think they DID understand that life as they knew it was about to change pretty dramatically.
And to manage that change - and to continue moving forward as Jesus' followers - they were going to have to:
- See God's work in people that weren't getting with the program - which meant not only seeing people like this guy who wasn't part of the group as part of Jesus' plan, but also understanding that Jesus could still use them when, frankly, they also were not getting with the program...!
- Accept the messiness that comes with the uncertainty and adaptation to new times and different ways of doing things; and it wasn't that what they had been doing until now was wrong; it was just that, after the Resurrection, life was going to change for them, and they had to trust that God would guide them through what was just going to be a messy process...
- Keep focused on the new life that Jesus was calling them to be part of; and truthfully, that was REALLY hard when, at the moment, all they could hear was Jesus' talk of dying, and all the could see was the road to the Cross...
And these are the same things God calls us to remember whenever our lives seem to be in flux; whenever things are changing dramatically around us; and whenever it's clear that life is just going to be different than it used to be.
Indeed, our world is changing around us faster than it's ever seemed to change before. Many of us face big personal changes and challenges to our lives and expectations for the future. And even life in the church - where many people erroneously used to think life would always go on just as before - is now really at a crossroads.
And it's precisely at times like these that today's stories are intended to give us guidance and courage. For it's at times of great change, challenge and confusion that we need to remember and hear God's promise that:
- God is still working through us and with us even when we feel like we just can't get with the program... (because we're not even sure what the "program" looks like!) ...
- God is at work even in the midst of the messiness of figuring out how to move forward... (God's "plan" may in fact be moving forward nicely even when it feels like chaos and confusion, and that this is NOTHING like "a plan coming together"!)...
- There really is a promised future, even and especially when it feels like we're in the middle of a desert with diminished resources and reminders all around us of the death of the way things used to be ...
Times of change and transition are always challenging and confusing. They're often messy. And they frequently go on for what seems like too long. God never promises to make them not messy, or to make them go away quickly.
But over and over again in the scriptures, God does promise us to be with us and to guide us even and especially in the midst of the messiness. God does promise to use our efforts and attempts to bring about a new reality, even when it feels to us like we can't get with the program. And most of all, God does promise that there really is a future that God has in store for us, even if it's going to be a while before we get there.