a reflection on the readings for Proper 16A: Exodus 1-2:10
A radical Islamic militant group moves through Iraq and Syria killing civilians including American journalists, touting an extremist ideology and terrorizing a minority religious group in the region, forcing them to seek safe harbor on a mountain top.
A police officer shoots an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, and a week of riots erupt. News reports cite years of conflict between a black community and it’s mostly white police force are coming to the surface.
Hamas and Israel enter into open conflict once again in a fierce and seemingly endless battle over land rights.
Russia invades the Ukraine in a play for power.
A woman runs into a hotel in Libya, begging for help. Government agents are captured on hotel video hauling her away. Mayhem erupts in Libya.
Genocide – people killing other people because of race, ethnicity, or religion, from Rwanda to South Africa, to Guatemala and countries in South America. From the Holocaust to the war between Serbia and Croatia, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that it is not only okay, but a right, to kill people who differ from one another.
Even here, in our country, we have open conflict over race, gun rights, and human sexuality.
An Egyptian Pharaoh grew worried about the increasing Hebrew population in his country. He started a campaign of fear and anxiety that soon infected other Egyptians. Before long the misleading information fueled enough fear in the people that Pharaoh garnered support for genocide. The Pharaoh ordered the local midwives to carry out the killings, intending that no baby boy survived the birth process.
It’s not a far-fetched story. All around us are stories of similar atrocities.
What is amazing, however, is how the five women in this story all conspire against the Pharaoh, each in their own way and without any preconceived intention of working together. First of all we have the two midwives who recognize that if they follow the Pharaoh’s plan they will lose all credibility in the community of Hebrew and Egyptian women. They will lose their integrity as professionals whose job it is to bring forth new life not end it. So the midwives develop a brilliant plan that saves their reputation and save the lives of the babies being born – they women give birth before the midwives can arrive.
So then Pharaoh insists that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile. One Hebrew mother takes a risk at saving her son, placing him in a basket near the water where Pharaoh’s daughter bathes. The Pharaoh’s daughter finds the baby and before she knows it the baby’s sister is there offering to find a wet nurse, who ends up being the baby’s real mother. As if that were not enough, Pharaoh’s daughter pays the mother to be the wet nurse. The baby grows up in Pharaoh’s own home, and thus defeats Pharaoh’s plan to rid the nation of Hebrew boys. It’s brilliant! What makes it even more amazing is that because of these five women, the rest of God’s salvation history is possible. The story that began with Abraham and Sarah, continued with Isaac and Rebeca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, is able to continue with Moses – a descendent of Abraham – from a family of Hebrew people living in exile as slaves in Egypt. Moses will grow up to leave Pharaoh’s house and lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and back to the land of their ancestors.
A number of years ago a group of us in the parish watched the PBS series, “Women, War, and Peace.” The series told the story of women who worked together to bring about justice and peace in war-torn areas of the world: Serbia-Croatia, Liberia, Colombia, and Afghanistan. It was a powerful, eye-opening series that revealed the behind the scenes work and the up front and center civil disobedience that was being done by women in war torn regions of the world to bring forth justice and peace. Much of the work included an interfaith movement of women; Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who joined together as one voice to end the genocide and division.
Likewise, the five women in the story from Exodus all come from very different backgrounds. None of them plotted to work together. But each of them was wiling to do the right thing, they took a risk for justice. In the process they entered into God’s hope and desire for human kind and all creation.
As Episcopalians we describe God’s desire for us through the words of the Baptismal Covenant, where in with God’s help we will: seek justice, respect the dignity of others, serve Christ in one another, share bread, resist evil, repent and return to God, proclaim the Good News of God’s love in Christ and each other, and strive for peace.
The women in Exodus exemplify these characteristics of people of faith. They are our spiritual foremothers. May their wisdom, tenacity, courage, and strength live on in us, fortifying and inspiring us into acts of justice. May we be the living hands and heart of Christ in this broken world of ours.