This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
The Seventh Plague: Thunder and Hail
13 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.14For this time I will send all my plagues upon you yourself, and upon your officials, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.15For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth.16But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth.17You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go.18Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.19Send, therefore, and have your livestock and everything that you have in the open field brought to a secure place; every human or animal that is in the open field and is not brought under shelter will die when the hail comes down upon them.” ’20Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place.21Those who did not regard the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the open field.
22 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.’23Then Moses stretched out his staff towards heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt;24there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.25The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal; the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field.26Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.
27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.28Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.’29Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.30But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.’31(Now the flax and the barley were ruined, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud.32But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they are late in coming up.)33So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to the Lord; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth.34But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials.35So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.
Although the sending of this plague and its effect on Pharaoh is a repetition of what has gone before, the attentive reader begins to notice a strange aspect of the story: Moses becomes the one who intercedes with God for the Egyptians, as he will later be the one who intercedes for his own people. He stretches out his hands to the Lord on behalf of his enemy, hoping, against his own expectation, that this time Pharaoh will keep his word. He does not want a worse calamity to come on the Egyptians. In this, as in all his interceding, Moses is carrying out his prophetic mession of “reminding God of his own nature”: God does not desire the harm or death of any of his creatures. Maintaining a concern for the oppressive enemy, even in the act of opposing them, is the example of Moses to other freedom fighters in other times. At a more domestic level, it is a reminder that we can stand for justice in personal, social and political situations without denying the humanity of our opponent. Gandhi was good at this. Even if we concede the justice of his causes (which I am far from conceding!) Rush Limbaugh is bad at it.
A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him,33saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles;34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
The Request of James and John
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’36And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’37And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’38But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’39They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.42So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Oh these beautiful, terrible narratives of Mark which strip away the pretense from religious commitment and leave us facing the raw truth about ourselves! This one begins with Jesus reminding the disciples of his own destiny: he will be rejected and will suffer. In no time at all, leading disciples are quarelling about who get places of honour at his victory banquet! We find it so hard to separate our own desires from our faith. Even as I worship in this holy season of Lent, even as I appproach the week of Jesus’ passion, I find it hard to leave behind my desires for power and position.
Jesus recognises that these desires represent an almost universal view of leadership: the leaders of the gentiles lord it over them, he says, BUT it must not be so amongst you! In the true Israel, the counter-cultural community of Jesus, leadership is service and involves suffering on behalf of others; for the Jesus’ movement, the “Son of Man”, has come into the world to give its life so that others may be set free. The prophetic task of intercession for others, even for enemies, which we see in Moses, is here deepened by the readiness to put one’s life in the scales, so that good may prevail. Our unreadiness for this constitutes our own contribution to the suffering of God in the world.