A reflection on the readings for Proper 16A, Exodus 1:8-2:10
During my vacation I read a number of books. One of them, Caleb's Crossing, was written by a Geraldine Brooks, a favorite author of mine. It tells the story of the first Native American to attend Harvard University in the 1600's. Brooks, a former corespondent for the Wall Street Journal covering the war in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East, is now a Pulitzer prize winning novelist. Her books deal with struggles in society between the dominant culture and those marginalized by society and seen as threatening. My favorite book is called. "People of the Book." in it she tells the story inspired by the Sarajevo Haggadah. An Haggadah is a book used by the Jewish people at their Seder Passover meal to tell the sacred story of Exodus from Egypt.
I've attended several Seders and even a couple of delightful women's Seders created my rabbi friend Lisa and the female cantor at the synagogue in Illinois. A women's Seder tells the Passover and Exodus story through eyes of Miriam and the women, instead of Moses. Through the eyes of the women who cooked the meals and danced and sang. They were delightful!
The story “People of the Book” is a wonderful fictitious portrait of how the Sarajevo Haggadah may have been created and survived the Crusades, the Holocaust, and the war in Bosnia. It’s a story of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all working together, even in times of war and persecution, to protect one another and this book.
After a summer of reflecting on the Book of Genesis we have now moved from that book to Exodus. Genesis and Exodus, along with Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy comprise the first five books of the Bible known also as the Pentateuch, or the Torah, or the Books of Moses. At one time it was thought that Moses actually wrote all five of these books, but scholars now know that they were written over hundreds of years by many different people. Nonetheless these five books tell the story of the formation of the Hebrew people, the early followers of Yaweh, the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, and Joseph. The Genesis story concluded last week with a Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, now grown, living in Egypt and serving as counsel to the Pharaoh. This week the story continues many generations later with this Pharaoh feeling threatened by the Israelites. Once the Israelites were the favored immigrants in Egypt, but now they are seen as a threat.
A tempting political strategy, whether an Egyptian pharaoh or more current examples of genocide such as what has happened in the Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, or Serbia-Croatia, involve trying to solidify power by singling out another group and calling them the enemy. Fear of others can be a powerful source of unity. In Genesis we hear about the blessings God gives the Israelites by way of land and descendants. But now those same descendants are described by Pharaoh as a threat that may endanger Egypt's security and way of life. Pharaoh's responds by trying three different strategies to suppress the Israelites: Pharaoh enslaves them; he commands midwives to kill Hebrew boys at birth, and then he commands all Egyptians to throw Hebrew boys into the Nile River.
Pharaoh tries to turn the Nile River, Egypt's main source of water and life, into an instrument of death. Yet the women in this story succeed in bringing forth God’s desire for justice, for the well-being of all people.
God intervenes and none of the Pharaoh’s strategies work. And, typical of God, God intervenes in the most unexpected ways – through midwives, through mothers, and sisters, and daughters – including the Pharaoh’s own daughter who rescues Moses after his mother and sister contrive a way to save the baby. Such a wild set of “coincidences” could only be of God…
This ancient text from Exodus still speaks to us today through our own issues of race and politics, religion, gender, power, the war on terror, immigration, the global economy, and all that threaten the well-being of our selves, our neighbors, and the world around us. Reminding us that there are many threats in the world today, but in and through them all we are called first and foremost to be a people of faith. To trust that God is and will work in and through us too. But to do that we need to open ourselves up to God and become the vessel through which God can work, the means by which we become the hands and heart of Christ.
portions of this reflction were informed from this commentary by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, The African American Lectionary, 2009
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