In Numbers we encounter the story of Balaam’s talking donkey. I’m sure you have all heard the jokes about Balaam’s ass – but how many of you remember the story? It’s a story about humility, poking fun at Balaam, whose talking donkey sees more than he can.
This is clearly a fable, and one that includes a familiar motif of the time, this “seer of the gods” who ironically sees nothing. Balaam, the son of Beor, is loyal to the God of Israel and comes from a far away land to be both prophet and diviner, has his first oracle today.
Balaam is a non-Israelite, and yet he has come because of Yahweh. He is an outsider, but loyal to the God of Israel. He comes as God’s instrument to either give blessing or curses.
But not a very good one! His donkey sees more than he does!
How often this is the case in our lives. We go to school and acquire so much knowledge; we learn much about life through the wisdom of years. And yet we are so limited in what we know about ourselves, others, or the human condition. We have problems in our lives, in our governments, in our world. We go to the doctor, thinking they have all the answers too, only to realize that much sickness is a mystery and they are just humans trying their best, sometimes making mistakes too. We, too, come to realize this – that we are not masters of our own universe. Communication breaks down at our workplace, or our relationships falter or fall apart. We are hardly people who know everything – about others or even ourselves.
We are broken, fragile creatures who long to see our lives complete.
The joy of the Church is that God accepts us in our brokenness – in our failings. God does not demand perfection. He simply calls us to the table and says, “I have been saving a seat for you. Come. Eat. Take some bread.”
What we experience in the Church – at the Font, at the Table – is the wondrous inclusive love of God, which is intended for all.
Not to say that God doesn’t want us to do our best. We should desire the best – treating ourselves and others like the kings and queens that God treats us. But this is the wonder of God’s love – who always has more to give than to expect in return.
The story of Balaam’s talking donkey is one of humility, that I think is also meant to calm our fears. Here is this great prophet – and a story of him not getting it. Hopefully today can be a day when we laugh at ourselves, stop taking ourselves so seriously, and enjoy the simplicity of the presence of God in our lives.