This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline friom world news:
10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’11Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?12Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’13But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’14Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad.15You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do.16He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.17Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.’<!– 18 –>
Moses Returns to Egypt
18 Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, ‘Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt and see whether they are still living.’ And Jethro said to Moses, ‘Go in peace.’19The Lord said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead.’20So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt; and Moses carried the staff of God in his hand.
21 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.22Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son.23I said to you, ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.” ’
24 On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him.25But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’* feet with it, and said, ‘Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!’26So he let him alone. It was then she said, ‘A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.’
27 The Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he went; and he met him at the mountain of God and kissed him.28Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord with which he had sent him, and all the signs with which he had charged him.29Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites.30Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people.31The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.
This is such a complicated narrative that the ininstructed reader will be bewildered. It is a patchwork of stories put together by the final editor of Exodus.
1. Moses’ final excuse for not accepting God’s call because he is “slow of speach” is summarily dismissed by God: “Who gave Man a mouth?” But Moses’ hesitation leads to Aaron’s involvement which turns out to be a weakness rather than a strength.
2. God gives Moses a rod to perform wonders but he tells him that Pharaoh will refuse to let God’s son Israel go from Egypt and that God will therefore destroy Pharaoh’s first-born. If God “will harden” Pharoah’s heart why bother with all the plagues?
3. God apparently tries to kill someone-it may be Moses but there’s no name given. And what exactly does Zipporah do? She circumcises her son and touches her huband’s penis (“Feet” is a traditional euphemism) with the cut foreskin. This seems to satisfy God. It’s far from clear what’s going on but it clearly refers to circumcision as the sign that the first-born belongs to God. Perhaps God is angry because Moses is uncircumcised? In any case it’s a violent indication of the jelousy of God who owns the first-born son.
4 Moses meets Aaron who speaks to the leders and people on his behalf. The people believe the message of God’s promised deliverance.
Ths story is overloaded with material that reflects the concerns of its editors, but its main drift is clear: the initiative for the people’s exodus from Egypt comes from God and not from the people or their leaders. This is not an account of a successful slave rebellion which might be a model for such rebellions in the future. It is not about a people growing in consciousness of their own slavery and deciding to become free. It is about the incomprehensible God who hates injustice unless it is required by His own plans, bringing his people out of slavery with “a strong hand and a mighty arm.” Through this action of God, the people will come to a new understanding of their own worth and dignity. Modern theologians have said this story shows God’s bias towards enslaved and marginalised people. Well, maybe, or does it just show his bias towards Israel as an instrument of His inscrutable purposes?
Jesus Again Foretells His Death and Resurrection
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.<!– 33 –>
Who Is the Greatest?
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
38 John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone* casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’39But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me.40Whoever is not against us is for us.41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
Here the disciples are shown displaying two unattractive aspects of religious behaviour:
1. A concern for status before God
2. An exclusive sectatrian attitude to others who claim the same faith.
Jesuis dismisses both of these, firstly by a beautiful demostration of the value of one child. Only the capacity to welcome the littlest and the least is valued by God. Secondly by a brusque rejection of any exclusiveness in the name of the gospel. There is no doubt that all successful religions are plagued by both of these faults. Status within the religious body has been eagerly sought, gained and abused through the centuries; and excommunications of those who hold divergent views of the same faith have been common. Religious power is just as subject to corruption as any other power, and should have no place amongst the followers of Jesus. How this is to be prevented however, while still maintaining discipline and order is hard to see. Even those who have been opposed to the arrogance of powerholders in the church have often been blind to their own. There’s no easy answer, other than applying Jesus’ words firstly to ourselves.