Exodus 1-2:10 (NRSV)
1These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household:2Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah,3Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin,4Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.5The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt.6Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation.7But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.9He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites,14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.15The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,16"When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live."17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?"19The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them."20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong.21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."
1Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.2The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months.3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.5The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it.6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. "This must be one of the Hebrews' children," she said.7Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?"8Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother.9Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it.10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the water."
These scriptures are from the lectionary for August 13, 2020. The lectionary is a series of scriptures, designed so that if a pastor preaches from them each week, the congregation will have been through the Bible (essentially) every 3 years. The only problem is that there is plenty of the Bible that we don't get to!
Anyway, Julia preached on this passage last week. She focused on the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who defied Pharoah to do God's will. She talked about behaving badly to achieve God's purposes.
As she read these verses, I had another thought. I'd like you to read them again, this time with illustrations. As you read, think about which character YOU are in this story.
Sit with that for a minute. Who are you in this story? Shiphrah? Puah? Moses' mother? Moses' sister Miriam? Pharoah's daughter? Or Pharoah? Anyone Moses?
First, let me say that the images of the white women at the end are intentional. Because I realize that where I fit in the story is the role of Pharoah's daughter. More on that later.
There was a time when I thought I might be Moses, his mother, or Miriam. I think that is the way many of us read this story. But as I have grown up I realize a couple of things.
First, unless we are of Jewish heritage, we cannot claim Moses' story as our own. Christians claim Jesus, who was a Jew, yes. But my father's family came from what is now Germany, and my mother's people are Scotch-Irish. My people were the ones who were taught by the disciples of the disciples of the disciples...of Paul. We were Gentiles. I can't claim Moses.
Second, I have no idea what suffering those Hebrew families went through. I go to bed and think I've worked hard, but I haven't used every muscle in my body, and I've been able to stop when I need a break, or the bathroom. I can only imagine what it would be like to deliver a son and KNOW he wouldn't survive - and the little imagining I can do is too painful so I stop.
So no, I can't say I am Moses' mother or Miriam. I did work in Labor and Delivery, but the one time I delivered a baby it was because the doctor asked if I wanted to and he was right at my shoulder. I can't think of a time when I have openly defied someone as powerful as Pharoah, so I'm not Shiphrah or Puah, either.
So I realize that my role in this story is that of Pharoah's daughter. She was a woman who presumably knew what her father was doing to the Hebrews. She had some sympathy for them, or she wouldn't have rescued Moses. By placing him under her protection, she ensured that he would grow and thrive.
She is also an elite. She has every privilege that her society affords her. As a white woman, I pretty much do too. She can come and rescue one of the "unfortunates," and feel better about herself.
But put the story in today's world and oh. my. goodness it is awful. If your heart isn't broken by the picture of the traumatized little boy crying for his mother, then I am not sure you have a heart. My purpose is not to debate the merits of restricting illegal immigration, but to demand that all people - ALL people - be treated as human beings. Not as animals, as some of our leaders have called them. Can we at least acknowledge that these people would not subject themselves to this treatment if what they were leaving wasn't worse? Can we respect the hope that causes them to come to us? Can we see our common humanity in their eyes? Can we recognize that the people we want to turn away and treat inhumanely, the people who are most likely to get shot in the street, the people who we think of as "less than," are beloved children of God, too?
The images of white women at the end of the slides is problematic, because they imply that I think white people need to come and rescue those who are oppressed, by tutoring, teaching, adopting, etc. In Moses' case, there wasn't really another option, but today, we need to stand WITH those on the margins. We need to EMPOWER those who are powerless. We need to SEE those on the margins. It is not through our wisdom, our generosity, our largesse that people who are seen as disposable will thrive. They will do that on their own. The question is, how much do we want them to suffer as they thrive? How cruel are we willing to be?
I was thinking about Pharoah's daughter yesterday. Why would only one mother try to save her son? Why only Moses?
Maybe not only Moses. It occurs to me that Moses' mother wasn't the first to place her son in a basket to save him. And if she was the first, she most certainly wasn't the last. How many children did Pharoah's daughter save? We can only know of the one. But presumably Pharoah had other daughters, and she had handmaidens and other courtiers - how many women saved the Hebrew children?
So the story is about at LEAST 5 badass Biblical women: Shiphrah and Puah, who defied and lied to the most powerful man in the land, at great personal risk. Moses' mother, who was determined that her child would live. Miriam, who made sure Moses was rescued, and brought him back to their mother to raise. And Pharoah's daughter, who rescued this baby and claimed him as her own protecting him so that he would grow to adulthood and lead his people out of Egypt, and out of slavery.
How many badass women are working to save the children now? Mother Teresa comes to mind - I suspect that when she called, the men in power groaned. Kamala Harris, has just been nominated to be the first African American and Asian American vice presidential candidate. The "Squad" - Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib are holding the patriarchal congress to account. The mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of Ahmad Arboury, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and so many others raise their voices in lament - how can we not hear? All the women who showed up at the March on Washington yesterday (8/28/2020) were seen and heard. How many women work for Doctors Without Borders? How many women along the southern border of the US welcome "illegal" immigrants with water and food? How many of us clean our closets and donate the clothes to the homeless, or send them to hurricane ravaged communities?
How many ways can we come alongside and be badass with them?
How many of us will VOTE like THEIR lives depend on it?
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