In daily Masses this week we are reading largely from the Book of Exodus, specifically the familiar story of the parting of the Red Sea by God, working through Moses. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s Feast of the St. James, good though it is, interrupts the story and we miss the critical passage in which the water is parted and the people of Israel escape through the sea, dry-shod.
Let’s review the passage:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left (Exodus 14:21-22).
When a story is so familiar to us it is easy to overlook the details. Note that the sea is standing up like a wall on both sides. Though the height is not mentioned, let’s just imagine that the walls of water are thirty feet high.
Imagine the courage of the people entering into the midst of sea while the water is being miraculously held back! If you saw walls of water like that, would you have ventured out into the middle? While it may have “helped” that they had an army pursing them from behind, do not minimize the fear they must have felt and the courage and trust it took for them to go forward in faith.
St. Paul would later say that the passage through the Red Sea is an image of baptism: They were all baptized into Moses (1 Cor 10:2). Note how faith and baptism are joined. Though the Sacrament of Baptism confers the theological virtue of faith, there is (at least in adult baptism) a kind of prevenient faith wherein one is prompted to trust God and what He has revealed. In receiving people into the faith, I have been amazed by the courage shown by many of them. There have been those who faced the dismay of and even persecution by their family members. Others overcame personal obstacles, doubts, and uncertainties. They stepped forth in faith and went through the waters.
Even after baptism, all of us are asked to continue living its implications. The increasing scorn and derision of our faith and the teachings of our Lord by the world may seem like walls of water that we must, in trust, ignore. We must continue in the renewal of our baptismal promises and journey through to the other side. We must also journey, trusting the Lord’s promise to deliver us from the pursuing army of the prince of this world.
Yes, living our baptism requires courage.
You might object to my calling the people of Israel courageous, saying that the Egyptian army also pushed forward into the middle of the parted walls of water. Yes, but their doing so was not the result of courage. Rather, it was the excess of courage we call rashness, folly, or foolhardiness. Why? Because they did not have the promises of God. It is virtuous to step out in faith, trusting the promises of God, but prideful to go forth trusting in one’s own strength. The prideful cannot stand before God, only the humble can.
The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and cast a glance and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:23-25).
Faith delivers. Pride brings only destruction. A simple glance from the Lord destroys pride and all its foolish dreams.