A reflection on Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Matthew 16:13-20, Proper 16A
A colleague tells this story about one of the first computer games his family ever got. He says:
“Atari became all the rage. As I recall Atari initially had four different games. My favorite was called Adventure. It was your basic dungeons and dragons genre, with different castles and rooms, a key, hidden doorways, a bat that could steal the key, even whole areas where obstacles were invisible.”
He goes on to say, “Our whole family got into it. The kids, of course, quickly surpassed their parents. They would come home from school with new tips and tricks. Some of them were…maneuvers not written down in any manual. One of the most amazing came home from junior high with my daughter: In a particular place inside the “black castle,” the diligent searcher could find a small white dot that was too small to be noticeable as a normal game object. Indeed, if you did find it you would think it was only a glitch in your video monitor.”
“By taking this dot back to the starting screen however, you could enter a hidden, an otherwise inaccessible, room. Entering the room had absolutely nothing to do with playing the game. All you would find in the room was a rainbow and the name of the person who invented the game. For all I know, every computer programmer does something like this. Somewhere, behind some hidden wall, available to only the initiated, there is another room. And in that room is the name of the artist.” (“Invisible Lines of Connection,” Rabbi Lawrence Kuschner)
The same might be said for us, for all of creation. Somewhere in each of us is the signature of God, our creator, the artist of our lives. The problem is that we are rarely able to see that signature of God. It seems, for whatever reason, the signature of God appears to be hidden from us.
There once was a man whose dental work made it possible for him to actually hear radio broadcasts. Somehow the combination of fillings in his teeth accidentally turned his mouth into a primitive receiver. But he found the sounds so distracting that he had the fillings replaced. The radio signals were still there, in the air, all around him, he just chose not to hear them any more.
This idea points us to the possibility of God being in and around and among us but we are unable to know how or where. God is not hidden from us, we just lack the ability to “see” God. Why? Do we need some sort of anomaly, like weird fillings in our teeth, to know the presence of God?
Shiprah and Puah are two midwives living in ancient Egypt attending to the births of children to the Hebrew slaves. The Pharaoh, anxious over the large number of Hebrew people, and fearful that in their large numbers they may choose to revolt, decides to reduce their numbers through selective genocide – the midwives are to kill all newborn baby boys. But the midwives disobey the Pharaoh allowing the babies to live. In their act of disobedience we see the signature of God…two people disobeying the human authority in order to do the right thing.
A mother, hoping to save her newborn son, puts him in a basket and sends it off on the river. Another woman, the Pharaoh’s daughter finds the basket and brings the baby to safety. And the baby’s sister, who has been sent off to follow the basket, suddenly appears before the Pharaoh’s daughter and suggests that she find a nurse maid for the baby, a nursemaid who turns out to be the baby’s own mother. Three more people, a mother, a sister, and woman of power, all doing the right thing and in their actions we see the signature of God.
All around us, all the time, are people bringing forth the signature of God. A man wakes his neighbors and saves them from their burning house. A child dials 911 and saves her grandfather. A woman teaches her students to believe in themselves and changes the course of their lives from drugs, poverty, and failure, to hope, education, and a future. We hear stories like this all the time. Stories of people who reach out to others, confronting adversity, challenges, or struggle, and offer themselves as the hands and heart of Christ in a broken world.
You’ve heard this joke: A huge flood was about to wash away a town. A local man, fearful for his life stood on the front porch. Just as the flood waters were rising another man drove by in his Hummer and offered him a ride. Oh no, said the man. God will save me. As the flood waters rose another man came by in a row boat and offered the man a ride. Oh no, he said, God will save me. Finally the man had to climb up on his roof to avoid the flood waters. Soon a helicopter came by and offered the man a ride. Oh no, he said, God will save me.
Well before long the flood waters collapsed his house and the man drowned. In heaven the man said to God, I was so sure you were going to save me from the flood. Well, said God, first I sent a man in a truck, then I sent a man in row boat, and then I sent someone in a helicopter…..
Yes, God chooses to work in and through humans.
As Christians we come to know the signature of God most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Knowing Christ in our hearts can help us to find the signature of God in us. Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say I am.” And Peter gets it right, “You are the messiah,” he exclaims. “Yes,” says Jesus…”but do you really know what this means?”
Jesus thinks that Peter does not really understand and so he tells him to keep silent. The impression is that Peter has said more than he actually knows and understands. Realizing something is only part of the issue – understanding it, integrating it into our beings – is a very different matter.
Realizing something is “getting it right.” Integrating something is allowing it to live in us and change us, to impact the decisions we make and what we do.
Shihpah and Puah knew what the Pharaoh asked them to do was wrong. So, in that regard “they get it right.” They could have left it at that and done his bidding anyway. But they did not. Scripture tells us they “feared God.” When scripture uses the phrase, “Fear of God” it doesn’t mean to be afraid, it means awe – to be in awe of God. The midwives were in awe of God and as a result they were aware of the fingerprint of God in their lives. They have integrated God into their lives and taken action, by not doing what the Pharaoh wants.
Who knows what has happened to enable them to have this awareness and ability to respond accordingly? Maybe it is the act of helping so many women give birth, of holding the fragility of life in their hands. If you’ve ever given birth, or witnessed a birth, you know something about this, the awesomeness of God in creation.
Another thing we know from scripture is that it takes the disciples awhile to move from knowing who Christ is to integrating Christ into their lives. It takes them awhile to move from getting it right, from understanding – “You are the Messiah” – without running away when difficulty arises. It is not until after the resurrection, on the feast of Pentecost, that the disciples really begin to understand and act from that deep place of understanding. Until then all they do is run away and hide behind locked doors.
Imagine if Shipah and Puah had done that, locked their hearts away and done the Pharaoh’s bidding? Imagine if Moses’ mother had allowed her newborn baby boy to be killed? Imagine if the Pharaoh’s daughter had turned her heart on the baby instead of opening her heart? Imagine if there were no Moses?
Imagine if Peter had decided not to lead the church in Jerusalem. Imagine if Paul had not gone out into the world and brought the Good News of Christ to those Gentiles. Imagine if the communities of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had not written down the stories of Jesus? Somewhere along the way people, who knew God, knew Christ, took action. They risked their own sense of comfort and well being in order to allow the fingerprint, the signature of God, to be made visible in the world.
All around us today are Christians living just like the early disciples. Christians who want to hide away, preserve their security and comfort, and as a result lock God up. They know who the messiah is, but they won’t act on it. God calls us to act, not in ways that limit God, but in ways that reflect the expansiveness of God. A poem called, You are Christ’s Hands, by Theresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic says it well:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless (us) now.
How does the signature of our creator live in you?
How are we being named,called, in expansive, generous ways, to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world?