March 23, 2021
by George Butterfield
click here for photo and information about the writer

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Lectionary: 252

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21
John 8:21-30

Praying Lent Home

Looking at Marriage in Lent

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

The Midpoint of Lent

The first reading tells the story of the nation of Israel traveling from Egypt to the land of promise. It was a difficult trip and the writer says that the patience of the people was “worn out by the journey.” This inevitably led to complaining, especially about the scarcity of food and water. Even the food they had disgusted them. Notice that they complained “against God and Moses.” This led to punishment. The people eventually admitted that they had “sinned in complaining against the Lord and you” (referring to Moses).

Of course, not all complaining about leaders is complaining against God but my experience is that it is still deadly. Many years ago, before my wife and I became Catholic, we were members of a fine congregation in southern California. We had gotten a new minister who at first seemed to do okay. However, as weeks and months passed, his words and performance became more and more “wretched” and the patience of at least a good number of us was worn out. The complaining began.

My wife, Deb, and I were part of a group of around five families that ate lunch each Sunday after church. It was a wonderful time together for the adults and the children and we all looked forward to it. However, as the complaining about our minister took off, it impacted our lunch group. Inevitably, the conversation turned to a criticism of the minister. Although my wife and I generally agreed with the criticism, we realized after months of Sunday lunch complaining that our spirits were being dragged down. A steady diet of criticism and complaint was poisoning us. We might as well have had seraph serpents biting us - the effect was the same. The lunches had become toxic and we were dying inside because of it.

Deb and I decided something had to be done. So, one Sunday we told the group that the complaining couldn’t continue or we would have to stop doing lunch. Everyone seemed relieved for most of the families had been thinking along the same lines as we had. During the conversation, someone suggested that we come up with a signal we could use, if it appeared that we were going down the complaining road. We settled upon “Isn’t the sky blue today?” We all laughed because, at the time, the winter weather didn’t give us many blue skies.

For a month or so of Sundays, everything changed. There was no complaining or critiquing. Until it happened. Deacon Mike’s patience was worn thin. That Sunday he and I were seated for lunch across from each other. He started in blasting the minister. I said, “Wow, brother, isn’t the sky blue today?” That didn’t even slow him down. He continued with his complaint about the minister. I said, “Man, the sky really is blue today, isn’t it, Mike?” No acknowledgement of what I had said and he kept going. Finally, I raised my voice just a bit and said, “THE SKY IS REALLY BLUE TODAY!” Mike looked me in the eye and said, “I know that the damn sky is blue today but I’m not finished.” Deacon Mike was a fine person, one who loved people and would do anything for you. He had a big heart, although his physical heart gave out at age fifty and we said goodbye to our friend.

Deacon Mike was able to overcome his complaints about our minister. In the end, he didn’t let it poison his spirit. Complaining can cause a bitter root to take hold in our spirit. It is deadly. Whether or not we have a valid complaint, the exercise of constant complaining is as deadly as those seraph serpents. May the Lord deliver us from it.

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