by Father Mike Stubbs
Someone who has trouble standing might use a walking staff as a cane to lean on. But a wizard might use his staff as an instrument to project his magical powers.
J.R. Tolkien shares that possibility with us in his novel, “The Two Towers,” of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. “The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age,” he wrote.
Like the wizard Gandalf, Moses, acting through his assistant Aaron, wields his staff as an instrument of power. He stretches it toward the Egyptians to inflict upon them the ten plagues, to convince them that they should allow the Hebrews to leave slavery in Egypt.
For the first plague, Moses is to instruct Aaron: “Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt — their streams and canals and pools, all their supplies of water — that they may be- come blood. Throughout the land of Egypt there will be blood, even in the wooden pails and stone jars” (Ex 7: 19).
Similarly, other plagues follow where the staff figures prominently: Ex 8:1; 8:12; 9:23 and 10:13.
This staff is the same one that Moses relied on as a shepherd, to ward off wolves, to protect the sheep. He could use the staff as a weapon, as well as a walking stick to lean on. It can work either to harm or help, depending upon the need.
In Sunday’s first reading, Ex 17:3-7, God uses Moses’ staff to work a miracle. While the Hebrews are traveling through the desert, they complain about the lack of water. To satisfy their thirst, God tells Moses to strike the rock with his staff, so that the rock may produce water: “Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.”
In the instruction to Moses, God refers back to the first of the ten Plagues: “. . . holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river.” In that plague, the water of the Nile River turned into blood, making it unusable for the Egyptians.
Once again, Moses’ staff is making a connection with water. But this time, the staff will serve as an instrument to make water accessible to the Hebrews, instead of making it unusable for the Egyptians.
The staff will represent God’s power to bless and help, instead of God’s power to punish and harm. It can go either way. It all depends on how it will serve God’s plan.