This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Bricks without Straw
5Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” ’2But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’3Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.’4But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labours!’5Pharaoh continued, ‘Now they are more numerous than the people of the land * and yet you want them to stop working!’6That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors,7‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves.8But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, “Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.”9Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labour at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.’
10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, ‘Thus says Pharaoh, “I will not give you straw.11Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.” ’12So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw.13The taskmasters were urgent, saying, ‘Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.’14And the supervisors of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and were asked, ‘Why did you not finish the required quantity of bricks yesterday and today, as you did before?’
15 Then the Israelite supervisors came to Pharaoh and cried, ‘Why do you treat your servants like this?16No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, “Make bricks!” Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.’*17He said, ‘You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, “Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.”18Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.’19The Israelite supervisors saw that they were in trouble when they were told, ‘You shall not lessen your daily number of bricks.’20As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them.21They said to them, ‘The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odour with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’
22 Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me?23Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.’
Israel’s Deliverance Assured
6Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.’
There are not enough jobs in the UK for all who want to work. That’s a fact. Yet the government has devised servile procedures which those who are unemployed have to follow if they are to continue receiving benefits. In some cases these include working for nothing. If there are protests about this form of scapegoating, the Government replies in effect, “You are lazy, lazy..go now and work!” This is a popular thing to do for those who are in work like to imagine themselves as virtuous and the unemployed as feckless. It is also an injustice which the Lord will not forget in the day of judgement. It’s easy to interpret the story of the Exodus in a pious manner without allowing it to ask questions about current forms of slavery. The absolute control of Pharaoh over the lives of his slaves is well-attested here, and reminds the reader of the places in the world where whole populations are deprived of all rights-as in North Korea-and treated as disposable, but we should not forget the less obtrusive forms of slavery, such as trafficking in children or women for sexual purposes. In the Old Testament the command to treat slaves as fellow human beings is given with the reminder, “for you were slaves in the land of Egypt.”
42 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me,* it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell,* to the unquenchable fire.*45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.*,*47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,*48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
The little ones here are both literal children and the disciples who have become like children through their trust in Jesus. The warning against destroying trust in Jesus is very strong and was doubtless originally directed at those who despised the followers of Jesus as “sinners and tax-collectors” or tried to silence the praise of children. But Mark has expanded the warning by adding the sentences about “cutting off” the offending limb or organ. He suggests that there are aspects of our characters which may lead us to hurt the “little ones” and we’d be better without them. Jesus is no permissive psychotherapist: “offending” traits of character must simply be excised. No mercy. No understanding indulgence. Cut! Somewhat unwillingly I’ve come to accept the wisdom of this for my own character.