13 Pentecost, Year A: Freedom

13 Pentecost, August 27

Ex. 1:8-2:10 or Isa. 51:1-6
Ps. 124 or Ps. 138
Rom. 12:1-8Matt. 16:13-20

Here’s a transition that portends imminent disaster: “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, 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’” (Ex. 1:8-10). To deter their numbers and strength, “they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor,” and yet “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread” (Ex. 1:11-12). This strategy failing, the king ordered the Egyptian midwives who cared for Hebrew women to murder all male infants. The midwives, secretly sparing the children, found favor with God and grew strong. Finally, the king issued an order to all the people: “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live” (Ex. 1:22). Oppression, forced labor, brutal treatment, and murder are the shrewd dealings of a terrified king.

The king has reason to fear, for God would provide for the Hebrew people. A Levite woman gives birth to a son, and though she hides him for a time, she decides, hoping somehow to save him, to place him in a papyrus basket plastered with bitumen and pitch, and she places him among the reeds on the bank of the river. In the action that follows, all the characters are in close proximity. The daughter of Pharoah, seeing the infant, “took pity on him.” The boy’s sister is nearby and asks Pharoah’s daughter, “‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ … So the girl went and called the child’s mother” (Ex. 2:7-8).

Incredibly, Moses is nursed by his own mother for two or three years. What did she whisper to him while holding him? No doubt, she told an ancient story. “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many” (Isa. 51:1-2). In one way or another, she told her son that he was a Hebrew, a message he would never forget and from which, in time, he would draw strength. The child who was drawn out of the water would lead his people through the water of the Red Sea onto the dry land of freedom.

To this story of political liberation people have looked, again and again, for inspiration and hope. It is right and good to liberate one’s body from abuse and oppression. It is right to cry out. The outstretched hand of God is the hand of justice.

Still, another and even deeper freedom is needed, something the children of Israel would learn in the wilderness — a freedom of the mind, a shedding of a slave mentality, and the realization of one’s worth and dignity. Christians describe it this way: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). This renewal is the freedom of confessing and knowing “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).

Jesus leads your body and soul unto everlasting life (Rite One, Words of Administration).

Look It Up: Psalm 138:7-9

Think About It: Your right hand shall save me!

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