As I read the passage from Exodus (the Old Testament reading set for this week), there is a sense of familiarity with our own cultural climate: Joseph’s family had grown and his descendent became numerous, God had certainly blessed Israel’s inheritance. As time moved on, though, Joseph was forgotten. The way in which Joseph served Egypt and Egypt’s king, the way he had heard God’s warning about famine, and had governed Egypt so that it would thrive in such difficult times, had been forgotten. All that Pharaoh knows is that these Israelites are numerous, too strong and many for his liking. Pharaoh feared the strangers in his land, even those who had been born there, whose parents and grandparents had been born there, Israelite-Egyptians who knew no other home. But Pharaoh was scared that should an attack come, the Israelites would choose to fight against Egypt instead of with Egypt.
So Pharaoh listened to his fear, he spoke fear to others and put fear into practice as he chose to oppress the Egyptians forcing them into slavery, treating them bitterly and ruthlessly; but God continued to bless Joseph’s descendent, and despite their forced labour, they continued to grow. The fear in Pharaoh grew to dread, oppression to hatred, slavery to murder.
But this isn’t a story of men in power or even corrupt men in power, or how fear and power can corrupt men. This story is about the women who refuse to be corrupted: the women who fear God more than Pharaoh, the women who value life more than they fear death. When Pharaoh hits upon his plan of ethnic cleansing, wiping out the Israelites by killing off the newborn boys, the midwives refuse to play. The midwives, ordered to kill all newborn boys, instead fulfilled their vocation of aiding women to bring life into the world, and when they were challenged, claimed that the Israelite women were too strong and too quick to need the help of a midwife.
This is also the story of the mother who refused to let her son be murdered: the woman who looked upon the child she had given birth to and saw that he was ‘good’, just as God, at creation saw humanity as good. This is the story of the woman, who when she realised that her son had a voice that demanded to be heard, built him an ark and launched him out on the waters. This is the story of the big sister who kept watch and kept her wits, so that she was able to offer her mother to be her baby brother’s wet-nurse, thus keeping the family together. This is the story of the Egyptian princess, who despite the decree of her father to all his people to kill Israelite baby boys, chose to keep this one as her own child and to raise him as a prince within the Pharaoh’s own palaces.
This is a story of people, of women, who have chosen love over hate, who have chosen perseverance over oppression: this is the story of faithfulness, of keeping faith in the God who had saved them from famine and would now save them from slavery. Each of these women chose to serve God: not hate or fear or dread, and certainly not the Pharaoh.
Who do we choose to serve?
In the gospel passage we are reminded of how Peter recognised in Jesus something more than just a good teacher or religious leader, something more than a rebel with a cause of justice, mercy, peace and love. Peter recognised in Jesus divinity ‘you are the Messiah’, he says.
You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.
It is in this understanding, this knowledge of the divine and recognition in Jesus of someone worth not just following but worshipping too, that Jesus will build his church. Peter’s faith is the rock on which we all stand when we choose to follow Jesus, when we recognise that Jesus is the only one worth living for, worth living our lives for, living them in accordance with his guidance and direction and purpose. Just as the midwives chose despite the dangers, just as Moses’ mother chose God despite her fear and dread, just as the princess chose love instead of the hate that her father was breeding.
And what of us? Who do we choose in a culture of fear of being overrun by immigrants? Who do we choose when our healthcare seems to be breaking under the strain of refugees? Who do we choose when our own children can’t get a place in the local school, or struggle to find a job? Who do we choose when English isn’t the most common language we hear spoken? Do we choose, love or fear? Do we listen to the midwives or to the Pharaohs?
Paul encourages the Roman Christians living in a time of fear and persecution, to hold on to the calling that Jesus has placed upon their lives, to keep listening to God:
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. [Read it here.]
The midwives refused to be conformed by the commands of the king of Egypt, they continued to worship God, to serve God, and to bring life and hope to the suffering Israelites.
Something to watch:
Something to think about:
- How do you think you would have responded if you were a midwife in the time of Pharaoh?
- What enabled the midwives to act for good?
- Why do you think Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses?
- How do you think Pharaoh would have felt when he discovered what she had done?
- Are there times when you have been asked/ordered to do something that you have felt uncomfortable with?
- How do you remain faithful when under pressure?
- How do you choose what is good and Godly when other voices speak louder?
- How can we support each other to be ‘living sacrifices’ for God an not to be conformed by the world about us?
Something to pray:
Great and wonderful God,
we thank you for your gracious call to be your people, your children, your Church; to live and work together as the Body of Christ, bearing witness to him through our words and deeds.
Remind us today of the responsibilities that involves but also the privilege, the challenges it entails but also the rewards, the expectations it brings of us but also the promises it brings from you.
Come now, and equip us to honour your call, to your glory. Amen Nick Fawcett