Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn the foundations of our faith. This post focuses on peace.
We listen to the story of the Hebrew midwives found in Exodus 1:8-21 read by Sue Sherwood. This story takes place in Egypt. The new Pharaoh is distressed at how the Hebrew population is growing. He thinks that with increased numbers could come increased threat. So he makes the Hebrews slaves. Then he demands that the midwives kill the male Hebrew babies that are born. We hear about how 2 courageous women respond to this perilous situation.
A new Pharaoh – one who did not know Joseph – came to power in Egypt. Pharaoh said to the Egyptians, “Look at how powerful the Israelites have become, and how they outnumber us! We need to deal shrewdly with their increase, against a time of war when they might turn against us and join our enemy, and so escape out of the country.”
So they oppressed the Israelites with overseers who put them to forced labor; and with them they built the storage cities of Pitom and Ra-amses. Yet the more the Israelites were oppressed, the more they multiplied and burst forth, until the Egyptians dreaded the Israelites. So they made the Israelites utterly subservient with hard labor, brick-and-mortar work, and every kind of field work. The Egyptians were merciless in subjugating them with crushing labor.
Pharaoh spoke to the midwives of the Hebrews – one was Shiphrah, and the other Puah – and said, “When you assist the Hebrew women in childbirth, examine them on the birthing-stool. If the baby is a boy, kill it. If it is a girl, let it live.”
But the midwives were God-fearing women, and they ignored the Pharaoh’s instructions, and let the male babies live. So Pharaoh summoned the midwives and asked why they let the male babies live. The midwives responded, “These Hebrew women are different from Egyptian women; they are more robust, and deliver even before the midwife arrives.” God rewarded the midwives, and the people increased in numbers and in power. And since the midwives were God-fearing, God gave them families of their own.
Reflection from Kim
After hearing the reading from Exodus, you might be wondering why the story of the midwives was chosen for a reflection on the theme of peace. There are many other passages in the Bible that imaginatively offer visions of peace – peace for the individual, for the community, for Creation. But, of course, peace is peace, and it is everywhere, including within us. Awaiting our discovery. Awaiting our notice and attention. Awaiting our devotion. So, we’ll see that there is peace in the story of the midwives.
To me the story of the midwives is a reminder to take off our blinders, our blindfolds that hide our apathy and self-justification, and seize the peace that is available to us.
As the story of the midwives begins, a new administration has come into power in Egypt and things change. The Hebrews, immigrants who have been living peaceably within Egypt and contributing to the economy, are suddenly perceived as threatening enemies. We know how this works. Our current president said of Mexicans coming to the US: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” So, the new regime in Egypt has it in for the Hebrews and oppresses them by forcing them into slavery to serve the Empire.
But it turns out that forced labor is not enough to subdue the Hebrews. They are still increasing in numbers. They are still strong. Still powerful. So the Pharaoh, a dictator, not benevolent, comes up with a strategy to definitively disempower the Hebrew people: Kill all of the male babies at birth. Period. So, the midwives are instructed to carry out the decree of the tyrannical leader. What will they do?
We are told that the midwives are God-fearing. Some commentators think they are Egyptian. Some think they are Hebrew. What we know from the story is that their commitment to life is what guides their behavior, whether they are Hebrew or Egyptian, or something else. Their calling is to bring forth life, to nurture life, to welcome life into the world. They are not death dealers. And even a threat to their own lives does not undermine their commitment to their fundamental humanity. Isn’t this what peace is really all about? Having a fundamental commitment, an inviolable commitment, to life? Isn’t peace about fostering and nurturing life, respecting life in ALL of its forms, including nature? Being one with the universe.
When we live fully and freely from this commitment to life, we know peace. In ourselves, in our communities, in the world, and with Creation.
The midwives were living in perilous times. And they were being coopted into the tyranny of the Empire. They did not accept the “banality of evil,” Hannah Arendt’s description of the way many of the German people acquiesced to Hitler and the Nazis. The midwives, in their own way, true to their humanity, defied the ultimate earthly authority that had power over them. A dictator who had called for the killing of all Hebrew babies will have no compunction about calling for the killing of two midwives.
These unlikely, marginal characters subvert the seemingly all powerful dictator, the administration, the regime, the Empire. It is a foreshadowing of the way of God throughout history.
Today, millions of people are degraded and enslaved in systems that strangle life. Millions of people who have lived off of the land have been driven from their land and lifestyle by multinational corporations, globalization, Neo liberalism, and empires like the US. The Black Lives Matter movement makes us see and remember how life for people of color in this country is subverted by governmental and economic systems and institutions. The COVID virus is exposing all of the biases and injustices in our society. Millions of victims of economic injustice and rampant legalized greed cry out for self determination and life. Mother Earth is under attack and cries out through all life forms, land forms, and water ways, to be liberated from the shackles of greed, apathy, and abuse.
How can we find peace? Where is there peace? Amidst so much overwhelming turmoil? Here we come back to the midwives. They did what they could do in their circumstance to stay true to their own humanity. And I think that points us to how we can know peace in our tumultuous times. Each of us, where ever we are in the current drama of power abuse and people abuse, can find peace by being true to our fullest, deepest humanity. We do this by respecting the sacredness of the humanity of other people, all life, and all that supports life.
Each and every day presents us with decisions and opportunities. Each and every day we take actions. We work. We shop. We watch. We buy. We consume. We play. We engage. We read. We talk. We eat. We write. We sleep. We drive. We listen. We live our days and nights. And constantly it is before us: Are we being true to our humanity? Are we living out our commitment to the life and well-being of all of Creation? Are we doing what we can do in our context to support life? What we find is that the more we are true to life, to Divine Love, the more we experience peace. When we do what we can do in our given context, when we are the loving people we are created to be, when we foster life, when we are true to our sacred selves, we find peace. Regardless of the circumstances around us.
The midwives did what they could do. They didn’t directly bring down Pharaoh. They didn’t dismantle the whole system of oppression. But they did what they could do. They played their part. They provided inspiration. And eventually, we are told that the purposes of God were fulfilled: the Hebrews escaped from slavery in Egypt and made their way to a new land where they could establish a society of compassion and justice.
Like the midwives, Jesus, too, shows us the way of peace. He, too, lived in an age of oppression and tyranny. His people were under the thumb not of the Egyptians but of the Romans. But the dynamic was similar. His people were treated like commodities, inputs, to be used to further the ends of the Roman Empire. There was no respect for the sacredness of life. Jesus, like Moses, comes to free people from tyranny. The tyranny of Caesar, the tyranny of Empire. The tyranny of oppression and greed for power and wealth. Jesus, like the midwives, is committed to life, in its fullness, for everyone and all of Creation.
Peace comes from seeking to live in harmony with all of life. It does not come from subduing others. Or from abusing power. Or from indulging greed and gluttony for wealth or power. Peace does not come from promoting the interests of some at the expense of others. It does not come from self indulgence. We experience peace when we are liberated not only from the tyranny of outside authorities but from the internal tyranny of a self-centered reality. We experience peace when we do what we can do to live from a commitment to Life. When we, like the midwives, do what we can to bring forth life, to nurture life, to welcome life into the world.
We are told in Exodus that the Hebrew women were “more robust,” they had their babies before the midwives could get to them. May we be more robust in our commitment to life and so that we may find greater peace. Amen.
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