For Sunday, August 21, 2011: Year A, Proper 16

The Reading            Exodus 1:8-2:10

The book of Genesis brings God’s people from Eden to Egypt. The book of Exodus picks up the tale a generation later: the Israelites prosper, and a new ruler—having forgotten how Joseph saved Egypt—feels threatened by these people who look and talk and worship so differently. Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites or Hebrews, and when that doesn’t reduce the perceived threat, commands that every Hebrew baby boy be killed. Courageous women quietly but determinedly refuse to obey—and one of them is Pharaoh’s own daughter.

 

The Epistle            Romans 12:1-8

We saw in our first reading that the Egyptians resented the Hebrew “others”. The church at Rome to which Paul wrote was a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ with some similar issues. Indeed, by A.D. 57, when Paul most probably wrote, the two factions had already such a history of sniping at each other that the Roman civil authorities had had to get involved. Today’s reading is part of Paul’s response to these divisions: we all bring to God’s table the gifts of God, and the gifts that each of us brings are all precious to our common good.

 

Further notes:

The evidence is a little scanty for a historical basis for the Exodus from Egypt. The lesson for us here is surely Pharaoh’s response in the reading from Exodus:   the classic human response to those who are and keep being different. The Israelites or Hebrews might have done fine in Egypt as long as they were not very numerous, or they adopted the local language and culture, or both.  They did neither, however: they prospered in Egypt while steadfastly maintaining their own ways of speaking and worshiping and living. One senses that a situation in which one group thrives in ways that make other people apprehensive about their own prospects for getting a suitable share of the available goodies.  This is, in short, seeing the case from the point of view of scarcity: “what anyone else gets, I have lost.”  The parallels between Pharaoh’s time and ours are fairly obvious.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans addresses a similar scenario: the Jewish and Gentle segments of the church in Rome seem to have concluded that if one of them has the right way to be a Christian, then the other necessarily doesn’t. How very human of them—and how very like them we are.  Paul calls them and us to do better: to stop doing business the way the world does. We’re not in competition with other Christians for the goodies that come from God: rather, we are to see ourselves as partners of God and each other, members of each other, looking out for each others’ good and living into and out of God’s abundant love.

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