This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Pharaoh said to him, ‘Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.’29Moses said, ‘Just as you say! I will never see your face again.’
11The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away.2Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbour and every woman is to ask her neighbour for objects of silver and gold.’3The Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials, and in the sight of the people.
4 Moses said, ‘Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt.5Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock.6Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been nor will ever be again.7But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.8Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, “Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.” After that I will leave.’ And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.
This is a crucial point in the story. Pharaoh goaded almost beyond endurance by Moses’ demands and the plagues which have fallen on the people, orders Moses out of his presence on pain of death. Crucially the narrator encapsulates this threat in words which are deliberately reminiscent of the words God will speak to Moses, “For you cannot see my face and live.” Reminiscent in advance, we might say. The reader is meant in the course of the story to recognise the blasphemous sense of absolute power which allows Pharaoh to make this threat. In the face of this arrogance, Moses prophesies the death of Egypt’s first-born: the males, even the male animals, who would be the pride of this culture will die. God will demonstrate that this is a sterile society, whereas the Israelites, slaves as they are, can learn how to be God’s people.
This critique of the arrogance of power is relevant to the great tyrants of our day: from Syria to North Korea tryannies create societies where “the first born” is dead, that is, where the natural creativity of the new generation is nullified by the force of absolute conformity. It’s also relevant to those who bow down to the idols of our time, to so-called “market forces” for example, and therefore limit their policies to what that great god will accept. They too allow their first born to die, their younger generations unable to find work or purpose or dignity. That the brilliant old charlatan of British politics, George Galloway, should have won a by-election in Bradford on Thursday is a measure of how deeply people long for a politics that does not condemn our children to uselessness.
The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’49Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.51Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher,* let me see again.’52Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Mark sees in this incident a parable of Jesus’ ministry. 1. Jesus’ presence arouses faith, in this case explicit trust in Jesus as Messiah (“Son of David”);2. This faith is persistent and even impertinent-it demands God’s action. 3. The man asks to be rid of his blindness and he is cured; 4 He becomes a disciple and follows Jesus “on the way”. In Mark’s view, that’s what Jesus’ ministry does for everyone. The Afro-American spiritual marvellously condenses this brief story into an even briefer compass:
Blin’ man stood on the road an’cried/ Blin’ man stood on the road an’ cried/ cryin’ O Lord, show me the way/ blin’ man stood on the road an’ cried.
When I look back at my past blindness (which, like Pharaoh’s, usually came from arrogance) and see what it did to other people, I am ready to judge that blindness as a summary of all sins, and to sing the spiritual with some passion, craving the mercy and enlightenment of God.
John Donne, whom the church remembers today, tells us that this mercy is never refused:
If some king of the earth have so large an extent of dominion in north and south, as that he hath winter and summer together in his dominions, so large an extent east and west, as that he hath day and night together in his dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgment together; he brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy summer out of winter, though thou have no spring; though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupified till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon, to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.
“As the sun at noon to illustrate all shadows”, that’s what the blind man wants.