In order to better understand the significance of today’s first reading from the book of Numbers, it’s helpful to know who the prophet Balaam is. Balaam is not an Israelite. He is a foreigner, paid by an enemy king to go and curse the Israelite camp. However, as we read in this passage, when Balaam arrives and sees the camp of the Israelites he utters a blessing, not a curse.
Balaam says that he is a true prophet, that is, he cannot say what God has not commanded him to speak. Though he has been sent to curse the Israelites, he cannot do so. God’s voice within him is so strong that it must be spoken. Balaam compares the Israelites to a garden planted beside a stream; they will be fruitful. Balaam continues his oracle speaking of a star advancing from the house of Jacob and a staff rising from Israel. We see in these images the foreshadowing of the Messiah. Christ, the shepherd, rises from Israel, and the star will announce his birth for all the nations to see and know.
As we enter this third week of Advent, our expectation rises. We look everywhere for the signs of Christ’s coming. But, are we willing to listen to those who are “outsiders”? Are we willing to consider that someone who is “not like us” may speak the word of God?
God can use anyone to speak to us, including our enemies, including those who are different from us, those who are “foreign” to us. Our challenge is to be open to recognize God’s voice in the least expected place.
Questions for Reflection: Are there people to whom I refuse to listen because they are not like me? Am I willing to be stretched in order to hear God in the voice of someone I consider to be an outsider or a foreigner?