Monday, July 17, 2017

LIFE OUT OF DEATH


Homily for July 18th, 2017: Exodus 2:1-15a.

          Just twelve days ago, when the first reading told about Abraham preparing to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and how God saved the boy ten seconds from death, I told you that the story was an example of God’s characteristic work: bringing life out of death. If we had time, I said then, I could give you other examples of God doing the same in generation after generation after Abraham and Isaac. Our first reading today gives us another example.

          Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, alarmed at the robust birth rate of the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt, decreed that every male Hebrew child should be killed at birth. “Whom the gods would destroy,” an ancient saying says, “he first makes mad.” Pharaoh’s order was madness indeed. He was ordering the death of the very people he needed for his ambitious building projects.

          Pharaoh’s order was the reason why the mother of the Hebrew baby in our first reading (whose name, we learn later, was Moses), put him in a water-proofed basket in the river, hoping that the little one would those escape the attention of Pharaoh’s enforcement police. It was a slender hope. Most likely the swiftly flowing water would soon carry away the basket and its content. As an extra precaution the mother tells her maid to keep watch from the nearby bushes.

          Against all odds, this high-risk strategy works. The little one is discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh himself. Thus it comes about that the baby is brought up at the court of none other than the ruler who had decreed his death. A remarkable coincidence? So we might say. For the Bible, however, coincidences are God’s way of concealing his identity. 

          Surrounded by every luxury, including we can assume, an education in the highest culture of that day, the adult Moses shows himself to possess a keen sense of justice. Seeing two Hebrews being abused by their Egyptian taskmaster, he intervenes by slaying the abuser. He does so carefully, only after assuring himself that there are no witnesses, other than the two men whom he saves. Oppressed people often turn on each other: see the statistics of black-on-black crime today. When Moses sees two of his Hebrew countrymen fighting, he rebukes them. “Are you going to kill us like you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” they ask. Alarmed that his blow for justice is not secret, as he supposed, Moses must flee for his life. So it comes about that a man twice on the brink of death, once as an infant, then as an adult, becomes the man whom God has chosen to save his entire people, trapped between the impassible waters ahead, and Pharaoh’s army closing in on them from behind.

            Once again we witness God as the God of the impossible, whose characteristic work in every generation, our own included, is to bring life out of death.