Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 24 Aug. 2014, Proper 16
Year A RCL: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Genesis reads like today's news:
brutal murders of the innocent.
This news goes beyond international borders such as Iraq & Russia, beyond religious clashes among Christians, Jews, & Moslems, beyond ethnic clashes in Africa & in Missouri. Brutal murders happen right here: for example, last Sunday my friend's brother died from multiple gunshots.
Why does human brokenness still exist?
Why do brutal murders still happen?
Why do we repeat this sin generation after generation?
What guides such cruelty?
Look at the fear in Pharaoh. Look at what Pharaoh, the new King, says in Genesis: “...in the event of war they may join our enemies & fight against us & escape from the land.” (He contradicts himself! He worries about having too many of them in the land & he worries that they may leave!)
This new king has studied his country's strategic sites & not its history. He doesn't know the blessing Joseph brought to the kingdom during the famine. He doesn't rely on wisdom to get to know “those people,” to build a mutually beneficial working relationship, to discuss “a non-proliferation treaty” that would address his fear that their growing numbers threaten his power. Fear, not wisdom, guides his decisions.
We know that centuries later King Herod will do the same & slaughter the Holy Innocents after Jesus is born. We know holy innocents have been slaughtered in all centuries, throughout the world & by all kinds of leaders & nations that take matters into their own hands.
At yesterdays' funeral, one preacher spoke of the mess we make when we take matters into our own hands.
We have to trust Jesus.
We have to let God guide us
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul tells us in Romans: “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 & acceptable & perfect.”
The Good News that we know in Jesus gives us the strength
to live through tough times,
to pray & work for peace,
for the spread of God's reign of
love & unity.
Like Peter in today's Gospel, we sometimes get it right. Peter is the first to declare Jesus as God's Son.1 So Peter is the first member of the Church of which God is the foundation & Jesus is the cornerstone.2 Peter is the first rock of the many rocks & stones that build up the Church, the Body of Believers.
You & I are stones that make up this living community that is part of God's universal Church.
We have work to do to bind ourselves in love,
to loose & let go of fear &
whatever else can lead to brokenness in
the human family.
One way we do this is prayer, as one of us who lives elsewhere in summer reminded me yesterday in a phone call. This person called to assure me of prayers for me & my friend whose brother was murdered. This beloved child of God said more: they pray daily for you – for St. John's.
Even while we are apart,
love binds us & helps loose sorrow & pain.
Binding & loosing are easier when we know members of
the Body of Christ are
working with us.
Laboring alone can be hard especially when fear is in the mix like it is for Pharaoh. It can be hard when we have a conflict between what the boss (Pharaoh) tells us to do & what our heart tells us to do.
May we have the grace to be wise
like the midwives who thwart
part of Pharaoh’s murderous plan.
When we fail to get it right, we can remember Peter who will desert Jesus when Jesus is arrested & will deny Jesus 3 times. We don't always get it right.
We must rely on God's grace & forgiveness
& try again to be centered in God's will.
Doing so increases peace & decreases brokenness & so may decrease sad headlines.
Headline news usually gives some insight into what has led to the headline.
What is going on in Pharaoh's time that gives him fear?
The Jewish Study Bible shares these insights3: This may be “the rise of the 19th Dynasty...founded by military officers...(who work) to protect Egypt's vulnerable coast & northeastern & northwestern borders from the Sea Peoples, the Libyans, & infiltrators from the Sinai, & to protect access to Egypt's empire in western Asia.”
That's a lot of worry for Pharaoh, who may be Rameses II, ruling some time about 1279-1213 BCE.4 He worries about possible invasion with possible allies from within Egypt. As the Jewish Study Bible notes5:
- Israelites come from Canaan & live in Goshen;
- Canaan & Goshen are adjacent to the Sinai;
- Both have access to the Mediterranean Sea.6
(The supply cities of Pithom & Rameses, are strategic sites, “(g)arrision cities...that usually (serve) military purposes...at strategic points, guarding the entry to Egypt from the north & northeast.”7
Pharaoh sees a potential problem & reacts in fear, trying to stop the growing numbers of Isrealites by implementing successively more oppressive efforts for his safety.
As the Jewish Study Bible says:8 Pharaoh tries forced labor, then slavery, then turns to secret attempts to murder newborn boys.
If he's worried about over-population, why kill only boys? The Jewish Study Bible says:9 killing boys eliminates potential future soldiers & a “potential Israeli military power.”
After the wise midwives thwart Pharaoh’s secret murder edict, he goes public with his decree. Think of movies of this story that have Egyptian guards throwing babies into the Nile River. Reality may have looked different.
Rather than throw the babies into the river, the idea is to “expose (them) in the Nile,”10 to put them into baskets that float down the Nile & sink so the babies drown.
This adds a new perspective to what we read about the actions of Moses' resourceful mother.
She, Pharaoh's daughter who raises Moses, & the wise midwives fiercely & deftly defy the ruler's orders.
They say NO to death & YES to life.
The wise midwives look at life differently from Pharaoh. They are fierce in respecting life. They may be Isrealites who are midwives, OR they may be midwives who tend to Hebrew women in childbirth.
If the latter, these women are “righteous Gentiles”11 who defy their leader
to save the babies,
not from loyalty to their own people,
but out of fear of God.12
Awe, respect for God is the only fear they have. I am intrigued that they lie to do this & that the Bible stays silent about their lie.
What would Jesus say?
Jesus is the Way, the Truth & the Life that we murder on the Cross. We crucify God's Living Word, who forgives us as he willingly dies for us to open the way to new life.
Our new life can be lie-free, sin-free, when we confess & God forgives us & blots out our sin so that our old sins do not exist.
With this Good News – that we must share with those who do not know it – we can do as Paul exhorts us to do in Romans:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers & sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy & acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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 & acceptable & perfect.”
BibliographyBarclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . Revised Ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1975.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 4 Aug. 2014.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Sandel, Michael J. Justice: Whats The Right Thing To Do? New York: Farrar, Straus and Girooux. 2009.
'Voyles, Robert J. Restoring Hope: Appreciative Strategies to Resolve Grief and Resentment. Hillsboro, OR: The Appreciative Way. 2010. www.appreciativeway.com.
Voyles, Robert J. “The Three Faces of Compassion”. Forgiveness Forum: Teach Your Congrgation How to Forgive. www.appreciativeway.com. 2014.
1 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew: Vol. 2 . P. 141.
2 Ibid. Pp. 139-142.
3 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 107.
6 Ibid. Map 2.
7 Ibid. P. 108.
8 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P.107.
9 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P.108.
10 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P.108.
11 Ibid. Jewish Study Bible. P.108.