Which Side Are You On?   1 comment

Above:  Moses Window (By Lawerence Saint) at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Washington National Cathedral), Washington, D.C.

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Exodus 2:1-15 (An American Translation):

Now a man belonging to the house of Levi went and married a daughter of Levi.  The woman conceived and bore a son, and seeing that he was robust, she hid him for three months.  When she could no longer hide him, she procured an ark of papyrus reeds for him, and daubing it with bitumen and pitch, she put the child in it, and placed it among the reeds beside the bank of the Nile.  His sister posted herself some distance away to see what would happen to him.

Presently Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the Nile, when her maids walked on the bank of the Nile.  Then she saw the ark among the reeds and sent her maid to get it.  On opening it, she saw the child, and it was a boy crying!  She took pity on him, and said,

This is one of the Hebrews’ children.

Thereupon his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter,

Shall I go and summon a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, to nurse the child for you?

Pharaoh’s daughter said to her

Go.

So the girl went and called the child’s mother, to whom Pharaoh’s daughter said,

Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will pay the wages due you.

So the woman took the child and nursed him; and when the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.  She called his name Moses [drawn out];

For,

she said,

I drew him out of the water.

It was in those days that Moses, now grown up, went out to visit his fellow countrymen and noted their heavy labor.  He saw an Egyptian kill a Hebrew, one of his own countrymen; so, looking this way and that, and seeing that there was no one in sight, he killed the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.  Another day, when he went out, there were two Hebrews fighting!  So he said to him that was in the wrong,

Why do you strike your companion?

He replied,

Who made you ruler and judge over us?  Are you thinking of murdering me as you did the Egyptian?

Then was Moses afraid.

The incident must surely be known,

he thought.

When Pharaoh heard about the matter, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to the land of Midian, and sat down beside a well.

Psalm 69:1-2, 31-38 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Save me, O God,

for the waters have risen to my neck.

I am sinking in deep mire,

and there is no firm ground for my feet.

31 As for me, I am afflicted an in pain;

your help, O God, will lift me up on high.

32 I will praise the Name of God in song;

I will proclaim his greatness with thanksgiving.

33 This will please the LORD more than an offering of oxen,

more than bullocks with horns and hoofs.

34 The afflicted will see and be glad;

you who seek God, your heart shall live.

35 For the LORD listens to the needy,

and his prisoners he does not despise.

36 Let the heavens and the earth praise him,

the seas and all that moves in them;

37 For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;

they shall live there and have it in possession.

38 The children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love this Name will dwell therein.

Matthew 11:20-24 (An American Translation):

Then he [Jesus] began to reproach the towns in which most of his wonders had been done, because they did not repent.

Alas for you, Chorazin!  Alas for you, Bethsaida!  For if the wonders that have been done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago!  But I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will fare better on the day of judgment than you will!  And you, Capernaum!  Are you to be exalted to the skies?  You will go down among the dead!  For if the wonders that have been done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have stood until today.  But I tell you that the land of Sodom will fare better than the Day of Judgment than you will!

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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“Repentance” is a word used often and misunderstood frequently.  It means far more than apologizing for a deed or for deeds; it entails changing one’s mind, literally turning around.  This theme links the readings from Genesis and Matthew.

Moses enters the story in Genesis 2.  His mother and sister arrange for him to enter the Pharonic palace under the care of the Pharaoh’s daughter.  The Pharaoh in question might be Sobekhotep III, who had issued the “kill Hebrew baby boys” order at the end of Chapter 1.  But the princess obviously had some sway with her father.

So Moses grew up in the royal palace.  One day, however, he had to decide which side he was on.  He chose the side of the abused and enslaved.  In the process he killed an abuser, an act for the which the Pharaoh (probably Sobekhotep IV, second Pharaoh to reign after Sobekhotep III) tried to have Moses killed.  But Moses escaped into the land of Midian.

This chapter in the life of Moses the liberator ends with him on the run for murder.  He had turned his back on his comfortable, safe existence, which he could no longer continue because he could no longer be blind to what his adoptive family was doing to his people.

Matthew Chapter 11 begins a section on the rejection of Jesus by people.  This section begins with John the Baptist, languishing in prison, sending messengers to ask Jesus if he (Jesus) is the Messiah.  Jesus provides his answer (in brief, my deeds speak for themselves) then praised his forerunner.  And, as people and rejected and done violence to John the Baptist, the same will happen to Jesus.

Then we come to this day’s reading from Matthew.  Jesus condemned Chorazin and Bethsaida, Galilean cities where Jesus had worked mighty deeds but evidence repentance was impossible to find.  Capernaum, were Jesus lived, was likewise unrepentant.  It will go badly for them on the day of judgment, the author of Matthew quoted Jesus as saying.  Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities renowned for wickedness, and Sodom was an old example of unrighteousness and a lack of repentance numerous Biblical authors cited.  Such mighty acts would have inspired repentance in these places, so what was wrong with Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum?

While I was in graduate school at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia (2001-2003), I analyzed some old public school textbooks with regard to several axes, including treatment of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.  The author of a 1957 high school U.S. history textbook wrote,

It is difficult to suddenly change the habits of a lifetime.

This principle holds true in other settings.  Repentance entails changing how one thinks, and thoughts lead to actions.  Patterns of thinking become entrenched in us, and, for many, they become ossified as people become set in their ways.  We human beings have proved our capability to see and hear selectively in ways that justify ourselves to ourselves and those similar to us.  We need to be on guard against this tendency, for it blinds us to what God is saying, which includes notices of our sins.  How can we repent–turn around and change our minds–if we do not recognize that we have a problem?

It is easy to point out the ossification of others but difficult to see in ourselves.  We have spiritual blind spots, but that alone is an insufficient explanation for this phenomenon.  A full explanation must take account of the fact that we like to think of ourselves in positive terms, so our failings–our sins, those things which prevent us from being what we ought to be in God–disturb us.  Sometimes looking upon them is too much for us to bear.  But we must, if we are to live faithfully.

God knows that we have warts in our character, but there is only one perfect person in the Bible.  Look at the others; all of them were flawed.  For example, Jacob was a schemer, Moses and David were murderers, and Rahab was a prostitute.  Yet God used all of them, and the author of the Gospel of Matthew goes out of his way to list Rabab and Bathsheba as ancestors of Jesus.  So there is hope for us all, if only we turn to God and change our minds.  Do we dare to it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 26, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/week-of-proper-10-tuesday-year-1/

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One response to “Which Side Are You On?

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 10: Tuesday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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