Great rewards have been promised to Balaam, son of Beor, by Balak, king of Moab if he will come and curse the Israelites. (You can find the whole story in Numbers 22-24, including a talking donkey). Balaam goes along, making it clear that he can only say whatever the Lord puts in his mouth. Having exasperated Balak by blessing, rather than cursing, the Israelites 3 times, Balak sends him away, saying that he would have rewarded him handsomely, but the Lord has kept him from that. Balaam makes it clear that he had told the messengers that however much silver and gold he was given, he could not do anything beyond the command of the Lord, and can say only as the Lord tells him.
What struck me about this story is Balaam’s commitment to saying what the Lord gave him to say, regardless of any reward. He can see clearly because he is not blinded by desire for the reward Balak has promised.
But this is not about Balaam, but about us. It is also not so much about rewards and punishment as about fear and desire. Many of us get rewards from the work we do; for some, it may in the form of wages; I also know many Sisters have talked of how much they gained from the people they worked with. Which is all fine, normal and necessary.
My response to this text was less about the rewards I may or may not get, but about my desires; the rewards I would like to get, and how that desire may get in the way of what the Lord is calling me to do and say. It was only as I was typing this that it occurred to me that, for many of us (and I include myself here), our fears may get in the way as much as our desire for reward; and it may be that both work together. Does our fear of loss of reward, of appreciation, for example, affect how we do the Lord’s work?
Is it worth taking a few moments to be aware of our fears and desires, to see how they may get in the way of our seeing what the Lord is saying to us? Not in a way that suggests we must eliminate fear and desire (which would be unhealthy) nor in a way that suggests we must convert now all unhealthy fear and desire (which would probably be misleading), but simply to see and be aware. To maybe start a lifelong process of purification of our desires; so that we may increasingly learn to love our Lord and our neighbour with our whole selves. Maybe we could also learn to listen to the ‘talking donkeys’ amongst us.