Living toward a Vision
Moses and the Promised Land
Deuteronomy 34: 1-8
For decades, Moses lived toward a vision of liberation and promise. From the moment he encountered God in the form of a burning bush, Moses had been guided by the image of a land of promise and fulfillment, a place where his people could find a home, a place where children could laugh and play and breathe the sweet air of freedom. But, as the people reach the edges of Canaan, Moses discerns that he will die before the promise is fulfilled. He receives a vision of the bounty of his land, but he cannot enter it.
Though Moses still possessed a strong heart and a lively mind and the will to go forward, he no longer had the stamina and energy to guide the people in the complexities of settling the new land. It was time for him to let go of power and let others complete the work he’d begun. No doubt he felt ambivalent as he faced his death, but even in death he was sustained by a vision.
According to tradition, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world was going to end tomorrow. His response was “I would plant a tree.” Perhaps, Luther like Moses knew that morality involves planning for a future that we will not experience. As the grandfather of an eleven month old, I’ve learned to imagine the kind of world he will inherit, long after I’ve died. We play games and read books. I nurture his spirit in the present moment. But, I have also made a commitment to work toward a bountiful and healthy world, despite the threats of global economic insecurity and climate change.
The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once described the experience of peace as the widening of self-interest to include the well-being of others over the long haul. The individual ego expands to embrace the healing of the earth. This is the task of prophets, healers, leaders, and Bodhisattvas - to live by a vision in which sacrifice becomes the pathway to spiritual and planetary wholeness.
Just a day before his death on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King spoke of his own mountaintop experience. Like Moses, he had to risk letting go the future to be faithful to God in the present moment. In his final speech, King proclaimed: “Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
For both Moses and King, mysticism led to mission. Meeting the living God leads to action, and vision leads to vocation. Moses encountered a burning bush, and received a vision that guided his journey. He encountered God on the mountaintop – at Sinai where we received the divine law and at Pisgah where he glimpsed the future. Now, he could let go, trusting the future other leaders, such as Joshua. He had done his run the race, he had been faithful, and now he could rest knowing that God’s vision of national abundance would come to pass. The seeds of liberation would flourish in the freedom of future generations.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, writer, and spiritual guide. He is the author of twenty books, includingHoly Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.