Leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly… assembled against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone too far! … Why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face. – Numbers 16:2b, 3-4 (NRSV)
He fell on his face. Wow. This great leader too? Did he fall in despair? Exhaustion? Shame? Humility? Or in prayer?
And what brought this on? It was a community turning in on itself, a community collapsing into in-fighting, accusations, and struggles over power. How could the best-intentioned group of people, folks dedicated to God’s ways of justice, ever stoop so low? Especially when they were threatened externally with much larger challenges? Yet it sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Every congregation has such earth-shattering crises, its version of “The Great Church Council Debate (of 2013 … or 1983 …. or 1893).” Every social justice organization remembers that horrible break-up of staff or desertion of donors. That time the leaders turned against us and we fell on our faces in despair, in exhaustion, in shame, in humility, in prayer. When we found ourselves with a mouthful of earth and nothing else to say.
Of course for Moses, God resolved the debate by opening that very earth swallow up the complainers! Since that isn’t exactly an option for us, maybe we can look to what Moses does after the collapse: he pulls himself up and pulls it together, attempts reconciliation, and calls everyone back to God.
God, as we stumble in our attempts to follow your ways of justice, after each earth-rending face-plant — please lift us up, dust us off, and breathe your life into us once again.