This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a a headline from world news:
Birth and Youth of Moses
2Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months.3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said.7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother.9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it.10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,* ‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out* of the water.’
Moses Flees to Midian
11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk.12He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.13When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?’14He answered, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses was afraid and thought, ‘Surely the thing is known.’15When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.
But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.16The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock.17But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defence and watered their flock.18When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, ‘How is it that you have come back so soon today?’19They said, ‘An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.’20He said to his daughters, ‘Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.’21Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage.22She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, ‘I have been an alien* residing in a foreign land.’
Scholars have suggested that at least four narrators with slightly different interests have had a hand in the story of the Exodus. Even the most ancient of these was writing 600 years or so after the supposed time of the events he describes- as if, in Scotland, the first account of Robert the Bruce was being written now. Given all that may be said regarding the power of ancient memory and tradition, we should treat these stories as legends whose main purpose is the reveal the nature of Israel as a people and the character of her God.
Moses is introduced in the story of his birth and concealment, leading to his entry to Pharaoh’s household. That’s how the great Jewish leader came to have an Egyptian name. The story shows that his upbringing did not divorce him from his own people and that he was ready to defend them, in a manner that shows his youthful rashness. The tale of his flight to Midian and marraige to the priest’s daughter uses the motif of the “flocks at the well” which we’ve already noted in the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis. All of this is a fairly standard introduction to the life of a hero, but there’s just the little detail of Moses naming his son, Gershom, which contains the element “ger”, a foreigner. Moses is himself a foreigner in Midian and also, with all of his people, in Egypt. One of the commandments that Moses will receive from God and pass on, is the duty of care to the “stranger within the gates” and God is always the God who brought the people out of Egypt, the “house of slavery.” That God comes to us in the stranger is one of the great themes of the bible. Those who would have us reject the strangers who live amongst us are rejecting God.
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2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one* on earth could bleach them.4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,* one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved;* listen to him!’8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.<!– 9 –>
The Coming of Elijah
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.11Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’12He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt?13But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.’
I was once teaching this story to a class of children, one of whom asked, “How did the disciples know it was Moses and Elijah with Jesus?” and another child said, scornfully, “Names on their shirts like Beckham.” A lot of time is wasted defending the historicity of this story, which is of course a theological legend telling the reader a) that Jesus, who has learned from Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the prophet, is greater than them, because he is God’s Son, the one to whom human beings must listen; b) that the disciples of Jesus failed to understand the nature of Jesus until after his resurrection; and c) that scandalously, being son of God involves suffering and death. The glory of God is made visible in his suffering servant Jesus. Martin Luther said, “There are those who are always shouting, ‘Glory, glory’. To them I can only answer, ‘Cross, cross.'” Yet Martin Luther King, who knew the reality of the cross better than most, finished his last speach, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”