A Parable on the Paradox of Perfect Power

When Moses was 40 years old he got a notion to work toward saving his fellow Jewish people from cruel slavery. He figured he could, by his own strength and eloquence free the Israelites. But Moses was a ahead of God’s plan. He was still too proud, too young and strong for God to use him. He’s trying to fix lives that God isn’t ready to fix yet. and he really needs his own life fixed first.  Moses ended up murdering a man and he had to flee for his life. It’s never a good thing to get ahead of God. It means He is no longer leading, you are, and that’s a very dangerous place to be, out ahead of God.

So Moses is now a broken man, sought by the law and not even welcomed by the people he wants to save. Off to the desert he flees and to the Land of Midian for forty more years. There he gets married and helps his Father-in-Law tend sheep. This is a far place from the Egyptian palace he grew up in. But God humbles only to exult us. It took another forty years, but Moses was finally weak enough and defendant enough for God to use him. Has not St. Paul written that power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). We have to be weak and dependent enough for God to really use us. Only when we discover our limits and our need for God are we “safe enough” for God to use. Moses needed to learn this paradox of perfect power. St. Paul writes elsewhere:

For it is written “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;  the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? ….Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor 1:18-31 selected)

God couldn’t use or call Moses as long as he was among the “wise and powerful” of this world, as long as he drew his strength from his status as a member of Pharaoh’s household. No, first God had to help Moses become a fool to this world, despised, no longer influential , no longer of noble birth. It took forty years in the desert but now it was accomplished. So, at Age 80(!) God calls to Moses from the Burning Bush and sends him to “let my people go.” Most of us aren’t thinking of doing great things at 80. We’re settling in for the last pages of our life. And Moses tries to get out of it. But the time has come. Now Moses is ready and God is ready too.

Do you understand the moral of this story? A lot of us are trying to fix other people in our lives when God wants to fix us first. Moses was too proud and strong to help at age forty. Now he is fixed and ready to go. He is humble enough to be used by God. He is aware of his limits, that he is slow of speech, that he stutters and is not eloquent or persuasive. He is now weak enough to be strong for now the power of God will rest upon him (cf 2 Cor 12:9)  You don’t have to wait to be perfect to help in fixing others. But to be most effective we have to let God work on us too. The more fixed you are the more effective you are.

Moses lived on to be 120 years old. But in the last 1/3 of his life he never went anywhere without the Staff of God in his hand. He was humble enough now that he had to lean on that staff and depend wholly on the strength of God.  WE think we are most effective in the prime of our life when we are on the “top of our game” but the story of Moses says otherwise. We have to be weak and humble to lean on God. Moses’ power came in his weakness, his leaning on and dependence upon the Staff of God. My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. (2 Co 12:10). A paradox to be sure, a paradox of power made perfect.

This video features Louis Armstrong’s version of “Go Down Moses.”  The Cartoon is interesting but has on major flaw. It presents Moses as a young Man. He was not. He was 80 years old when God called him:

29 Replies to “A Parable on the Paradox of Perfect Power”

  1. Thank you for bringing up Scripture. The story of Moses is incredible helpful. I bet Moses thought he was special because the daughter of Pharaoh had raised him! It took time for him to discover his real DIGNITY was greater than that of Egypt’s royals; God had chosen him for other kind of greatness -SERVICE.

    It reminds me of the Scriptures in Phil 2: “Though he was in the form of God Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men” and in Luke, “He swore to Abraham our father that free from the hands of our enemies we would WORSHIP Him without fear in holiness and justice.”

    Great song too!

  2. You are forgetting one thing- because you are a male -who doesn’t have a wife- or understand biological clocks and the urgent need
    to make a mark and pave the path in a short time- because one’s window on child-bearing is closed after a definitive point in time-substantially less than 80 years. Women who are called and know they are called to bear children have to make things move in time- because every period they have every month is a lost opportunity for conception. What is Mary said to the Angel Gabriel- thanks for the offer but check back with me in a few years after i am a bit more humbled by a few more abusive experiences.
    When relationships are destroyed and they are banished to the desert it means death for every potential fetus or embryo that they could have conceived during the desert time. This is why it is blast-worthy hypocricy for priests to mentally and emotionally abuse women while championing and marching for “Life” when they destroy its possibilities by their own actions. Perhaps you all have to catch up, rather than slow the rest of us down. Perhaps God is just royally ticked off that you all have not caught up to the rest of us.

    1. Dear Cinzia. I have thought it over, and I think your objection into what can be conceived as hypocrisy has merit and justification. The emphasis in the abortion issue IS solely placed on the onus of women, very often, as though they were the only sex responsible for the propagation of the species. When a woman has become pregnant in such a situation, she is indeed very powerless, and is caught in a contradiction that men cannot conceive of because of the differences between the sexes. Thus when you say, that men destroy the possibilities of the woman keeping the child,”by offering only mental and emotional abuse”; that I believe does not help the women. I shall translate this into the issue on the blog. Many, many arguments were spent arguing about for instance, whether the Democrats or Republicans were most concerned with the abortion issue and Pro Life. What is forgotten about by men generally, is the plight of the individual, usually poor woman, coming very, indeed most often, from situations of abuse, and facing more of the same or worse in the event of pregnancy. (This is the worst case scenario as far as powerlessness is concerned). The opposite situation, are those who are not in this situation, and regard pregnancy as a last resort when birth control fails. That is why more people should be doing the work of Sisters for Life, and helping the individual woman in her circumstance. Doing the first is may be say the proud course to take. To truly come to the aid of vulnerability and give them hope, confidence, and self esteem, would emphasize the needs of women rather than the protest against them. You yourself, if would seem want to bring a child into a promised land. And it is true, many women feel that they just haven’t got the ‘power’ to do that. Therefore they abort. And yet the protests are directed against women, and not against men. They alone are held accountable. I believe this is the ‘thrust’ of your message, and that you have taken the ‘abortion issue’ very personally. May God bless.

      1. Boy some things have gone in strange direction with this post. Ok Loreen I see you trying to reach out. but for the record my post has nothing to do with any of this. As for me I’m leaning with Moses on the staff of God ! 🙂

      2. Dear Msgr. Pope. As you know I have experienced upsets, and in this case there may be a ‘triggering’ relation between the blog on Moses, and the previous blog on abortion, on this issue that thus has been sitting latent for a few days. ( I couldn’t make the connection myself for some time. But if you read the message closely, you too may make this connection.That is because such expressions of emotion are so powerful that it is difficult to see the logical connections lying beneath the surface.) Anyway, that’s how ‘triggering’ works, in relating personal memory or trauma to fact. They don’t always make sense to other people. Cinzia, I doubt that you will respond to this. You are probably feeling what? somewhat embarrassed perhaps, or maybe even still angry, after the upset. I know however, that you are alright. It is ‘good to get it out’. I say this because I have been there! Please understand, if I am correct, that all is well. I hope you read the literature that has been suggested to you. If I am in error in coming to this conclusion, please forgive me, everyone. Especially you, Cinzia. Msgr. If I am correct here, I am sure that you will understand that it is ‘Cinzia’s connection, and that that’s why you could not be expected to understand. I am of course on a ‘projection’ here suggesting it. But if you look you will see the connection is indeed more than a possibility for someone in pain.

  3. I am trying really hard to “let go and let God” BUT I keep doing my own thing. I have a problem minding other people’s business when it isn’t my job to do it. What if speaking to someone is the job of the priest or deacon and he neglects this? Is the problem then his and how do I react to the priest when I see him later? I am really enjoying your page. Thank you.

  4. cinzia – what are you so upset about? Please explain…I’m having a hard time following what it is you are trying to say. Actually, the fertile period for most women is quite long; in normal women we’re talking about somewhere around 30+ years. Yep – there’s a difference when you have one in your early 20’s and one in your early 40’s.

    As for men and maturing and being ready to do what God wants them to do, what is the problem? What is the comparison here? I don’t get it. And why blast good Monsignor Pope? Is there a problem with him giving a lesson in the way things were? I don’t think he has any hidden anti-woman agenda.

  5. I highly recommend Mark Shea’s posting, which is just above this one on line. It’s called “Does God have anything to do with us”. Looking forward to tomorrow’s posting.

  6. This one was thought-provoking, as usual. It is very true that we often want to fix others before we let God fix us. It took quite a bit of living for me to really start to lean and depend on God. I also learned (the hard way, of course, as I always do) that if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. A few years ago, I was telling people I was all set to go to this nursing school, because they had told me I would get in based on my experience (I have 6 years worth in all different departments, plus the ER). I took a year off school to work out some things in my personal life, and I was also doing applications for nursing schools. The nursing schools within the past year have completely revamped their admissions to let in people who have high GPA’s, and experience “doesn’t matter.” So because I work and go to school, and didn’t have a 4.0, I didn’t get in. I was devastated, but then realized that I don’t want to go to nursing school now when all they do is let you observe. I’m keeping it in my mind as an option, for the future, but no hard plans to go now. I would like to go to PA school, because they do require you to have experience, and the higher up you are medically the better chance you have of getting in. But as for now, I am getting a degree in one of my many passions, Psychology, and I plan to apply to a number of different schools and areas upon graduation, just to see where I get in and what God’s plan is for me. I would love to go to PA school, but if I get into a second degree RN program, or OCS in the Coast Guard, I would be happy with either of those as well. Even though I am only 22, I have done and seen a lot in my life. And a lot of stuff I know now (like telling people you will get into a school because of what the school told you – bad idea!) I learned the hard way. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, because maybe God meant for me to learn it that way.

  7. Amen Jan.

    I know for a fact Msgr Pope does not have any hidden anti-woman agenda.

    Cinzia, I recommend you read a book that was featured on this blog about the priestly vocation of women. It was a guest author, one of the Nuns near my parish. Msgr Pope – help me out, I can’t remember the exact title of the book. Please read it Cinzia, you’ll be blessed I promised.

    God loves you.

  8. Dear cinzia, was not our Holy Mother the one and only exception to the need in all of us to be humbled and made perfect, or “fixed” as Msgr. Pope says. Was she not born immaculate, and therefore already had the ability at 14 to be perfectly conformed, in humility, to the will of the Father? God bless You, cinzia!

    Dear Msgr. Pope, As a male at the age of 50 with no children I can certainly understand the feeling, like cinzia, of time that is lost. My life has been wasted in not following the will of God. I have come to realize that I am in great need of being “fixed,” as you put it. The story of Moses seen in this context makes me understand that God has not used me as he could have, because my pride and lack of humility were in his way. I am at one of the lowest points in my life, due to illness, broken marriage, and loss of work, this new perspective on Moses has made me begin to think that God is perhaps tempering me for some other purpose of his. I pray to our Lord that I can get past this hopelessness and fear.

    On a different note, the way in which God tempered Moses through ageing has made me wonder about two of the Church’s newer policies, like mandatory retirement of the clergy at age 72, and restrictions on the age of ordination at around 55 or younger in some places. Is the Church getting in God’s way with these restrictions? Moses would have been out of luck.
    Yours in Christ, David

    1. Yes, perhaps there are things to consider here. In terms of retirement in this disocese a priest is permitted to request ritirement at 70 and only required to do so at 75. However, even though he is required to submit a letter at 75 he can indicate that he’d like to stay on and can usually do so. I rememebr a couple of our pastors making in to early 80s. There is also the possibility that a priest can be releived of administrative burdens and still continue in the more essential preaching and celebrating of the liturgy, or as a counselor or spiritual director.

  9. I like that picture of Moses, kind of frail, and I like the fact that he stuttered and was unsure of himself. –
    He was no Charlton Heston. God’s ways are so unlike ours.

  10. Ok Cinzia. I found it. Whew! – Priesthood of the Heart: The Unique Vocation of Women(original publication in French 2003, Eng. 2007) by Jo Croissant.

  11. Mosignor Pope says “Boy some things have gone in strange direction with this post.”

    I am glad you noticed 🙂

    Is any body reading this who is 80 years wise? Or 40? Perhaps someone who has experience something similar to Mosses, reacting to injustice with violence and latter discovering God’s power to save?

    1. Is protest always non-violent? Is protest always the most ‘positive’ course of action that can be taken? Is protest always taken out of real concern and love? Is protest always made with personal justification? Is protest always without the need of self-magnification rather than the magnification of God? Moses perhaps learned something from the fact that he could be called a ‘murderer’. But do any of us know or understand the personal issues or circumstances involved? What of Mohandis Ghandi!

      1. And what of Jesus who clearly speaks to every one of us when he tells us in scripture ‘not to be the first to cast the stone’. Is he not speaking to us as individuals, and not according to the norms of society. Can we not, work to change the sexual norms and taboos that exist within society, THROUGH OUR OWN INDIVIDUAL EXAMPLE rather than making the general and impersonal classification predominant and thereby cast the stone at individuals who like ourselves act, think and speak imperfectly. God bless the Sisters for Life.

      2. Just read today’s blog about the characteristics of the Church, but I thought I’d post my thoughts here, because it is likely that only you will read them. It seems to me, to relate today’s post to this one, that I am aware that I live in the world, but it is more difficult to not be ‘of’ of the world. I suppose that that distinction is what I am attempting really to be about in the posting on this blog, which is my conjecture of how perhaps a woman related in her mind, (if not in mine) the posts concerning Abortion, and the need felt to lead ‘her?’ children to the promised land. It is very difficult to ‘not’ be of this world. It is very difficult to be enough of an individual to even attempt it. Do we speak of the sins of society? Can society be ‘not’ of this world? My conjecture would be no. That is what I was attempting to say with the stress I hoped to place on the role of the individual within the personal sphere, and, although I acquiesce that much work needs to be done also in the civil regulation of the legal parameters of society, I ‘as an individual’ cannot hope to change these parameters except through my own individual life choices and hopefully development in grace and charity towards others. Thank you for listening Msgr. Pope.

  12. JAN
    Guest Blog – What it Means to Be a Woman – Sr. Maria Theotokos, SSVM
    Thank you for this post, Msgr. Pope. The relational aspects that we find ourselves in are without doubt most important. But in order to lead, I will still maintain, you must be a rational individual, or at least be working on it. This latter statement is I believe, in conformity with what I read in an encyclical of the Vatican. Without doubt, we are going through very difficult times, and as the above blog notes, it is not possible to go back in time, and therefore we must work , both as a society and as individuals, to go ‘forward’, both with regard to society, and spiritually to find ourselves with, through, and in Our Lord. Thank you. (With the help of Mary)

  13. Occured to me that not only men did God use late in life, hey what about Sarah and Elizabeth?? Conceived way beyond the natural course of things “for nothing shall be impossible with God…”

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