This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
25 Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.
The Second Plague: Frogs
8*Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.2If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs.3The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people,* and into your ovens and your kneading bowls.4The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.” ’5*And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, the canals, and the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.” ’6So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.7But the magicians did the same by their secret arts, and brought frogs up on the land of Egypt.
8 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, ‘Pray to the Lord to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.’9Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘Kindly tell me when I am to pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs may be removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.’10And he said, ‘Tomorrow.’ Moses said, ‘As you say! So that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God,11the frogs shall leave you and your houses and your officials and your people; they shall be left only in the Nile.’12Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh; and Moses cried out to the Lord concerning the frogs that he had brought upon Pharaoh.*13And the Lord did as Moses requested: the frogs died in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields.14And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank.15But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart, and would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.<!– 16 –>
The Third Plague: Gnats
16 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt.” ’17And they did so; Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came on humans and animals alike; all the dust of the earth turned into gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt.18The magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, but they could not. There were gnats on both humans and animals.19And the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God!’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
I guess the storyteller’s point in describing the plagues is to emphasise how the natural processes of nature are disrupted and unbalanced-as a result of the natural processes of justice being disrupted and unbalanced by the enslavement of the Israelites. There is some correspondence between the nation pestered by puffed up frogs or plagued by insects and Pharaoh’s habit of government. The Lord proves to have a surprisingly down to earth sense of humour. I was thinking recently of Alexander Solszhynitsyn and his book Cancer Ward, in which a disease and its treatment becomes a metaphor for the whole of a totalitarian society. He would have appreciated what the author of Exodus was doing in his description of the plagues of Egypt. Say, however, The Lord had sent the London riots and the obesity of its children as warning plagues to the UK, to awaken it from its dream of shoddy materialism, would anyone take notice or would their hearts be hardened?
The Rich Man
17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is* to enter the kingdom of God!25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’26They were greatly astounded and said to one another,* ‘Then who can be saved?’27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’
28 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’29Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,*30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’
Jesus does not scorn the young man’s decency, in fact he acknowledges it in his terrifying advice, “You lack one thing” as if something trivial was required in addition, rather than the complete reorientation of the man’s life. It cannot be reiterated too often, that Jesus is not speaking about the man’s attitude to wealth -doubtless as a pious Jew he pays his tithes and gives alms to the poor as a matter of course-but rather the possession of his wealth. His ownership of this wealth disqualifies him from the life of discipleship. With that amount of baggage he simply won’t get through the door of the kingdom anymore than a camel will get its hump through the eye of a needle. Jesus’ joke rests on the thought that without the hump, the camel might make it.
This so challenges the prevailing Jewish teaching that wealth is sign of God’s approval that the disciples are thunderstruck (a teaching alive and well in many contemporary theologies): if the rich can’t make it, they ask, who can? But when Peter protests that after all they have given up their modest livelihoods and security for his sake, Jesus is prompted to speak of the rewards of dsicipleship. Yes, he does speak of rewards, something that ultra- pious Christians have deprecated as if virtue were indeed its own reward. Jesus points to the shared life of his community in which nobody is left in need of food or friendship because all belong together; and beyond what can be expected in this age, when the kingdom comes, the faithful will receive the gift of new life.
I haven’t thought much about this issue in my life, because I’ve never had any real possessions until now, retired and in receipt of a legacy which gives me capital in the bank when millions of my brothers and sisters try to live on a dollar a day. I know I mustn’t just sit tight. I can feel that hump growing already….
John Keble, priest of the Anglican Church and leader of the revival called the Oxford Movement, who is remembered by the church today, advocated earnest discipleship, personal holiness and concern for the poor. He wrote the great hymn “New every morning is the love/ our waking and uprising prove” which contains the stanza:
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask:
room to deny ourselves, a road
that brings us daily nearer God.