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Xenophobia exposed

July 13, 2015

Exodus 1: 8-14, 22                            Monday 13 July 2015

So, we are working through the Book of Exodus this week, through to Saturday, and then starting again on Monday.

MONDAY, today, we start from the Book of Exodus (the exodus, or escape from Egypt, the leaving from Egypt), setting the scene.

TUESDAY, tomorrow, Moses is born and Moses flees from Egypt. Where does he go? He goes back to Israel. In fact, he goes back to the wilderness of Israel.

WEDNESDAY, whilst he is in the wilderness, we’ll hear Moses has a theophany – the Burning Bush.

THURSDAY we’ll hear Moses is given an instruction, ‘Go and set your people free, go back to Egypt.

FRIDAY: Preparation for the Passover, which has so many parallels, the theology of our Mass, of the Eucharist, found there, it’s roots, in the Passover. Our Salvation History.

SATURDAY – they escape from Egypt, and they escape through the Red Sea, through the water. Baptism! Saving people from evil and slavery through water.

What an exciting tale. I just want to give you a bit of background to it – it is a ‘great adventure’ – it is tremendously significant for the Jewish People – the story of Moses; and therefore it is tremendously significant for us. In fact it is our ‘Salvation History’. The history of the Jewish People is our salvation history – the way in which G-d has gradually been revealed to different generations of the Jewish People, culminating in the Incarnation, the birth of our Lord Jesus. And then it spreads out to us, the gentile people, the people who were not Jews.

Here’s a good way of sorting out the Old Testament for you. I always found it difficult . Oh until I saw this method of remembering. My goodness, those books in the Old Testament – they are in a bit of a jumble anyway (because the Jewish literary tradition is to emphasise things, the most important things come first, not the things that happen first; it’s not in chronological order, so it’s quite difficult sometimes to work out who comes where. We do it all the time with our own history: we know where Henry VIII was, and we know he came after William the Conqueror, that sort of thing. You don’t need to know the precise dates! But you do need to have a general idea of when these events hang together, because they are a pattern that culminates.

  • Last week we were hearing about Abraham. That was about 2,000 years before the birth of Christ. That’s easy to remember – we’re 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, it’s like a mirror image.
  • Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Three generations.
  • And then an unlikely candidate – Joseph – the youngest son, the one the other brothers didn’t like: he is exiled in Egypt. Joseph became, in effect, the prime minister of Egypt. The Jewish people, because of a famine, come to Egypt for help, and Joseph accepts the Jewish People, his family, to come and stay in Egypt. The Jewish People become exiles.
  • Then 500 years later, roughly 1,500BC: Moses.
  • 500 years after that, 1,000 years BC, David – second king of the Jewish People.
  • The 500 years after that (500 years before the birth of Jesus), a tremendously important prophet.
  • And then, Year 1, Jesus our Lord is born.

That’s the pattern – every 500 years or so: Abraham; Moses; David; Daniel, Jesus.

And it’s worth pointing out here, because of our salvation history, that many people at the time of Jesus saw Him as, if you like, a reincarnation, of Moses returned, to set the people free. And there are parallels, but He is clearly not the same person:

Joseph: an unlikely candidate to become the prime minister of Egypt, chosen from amongst the Jewish People and placed in a position of authority;

Moses: very unlikely, even to survive birth, and then to become the equivalent of the Pharaoh’s right-hand man, you might say ‘the prime minister’;

Jesus: very unlikely. Not born in the place where He belonged; a miraculous birth like Moses, against the odds; an exile; starts His ministry in the wilderness, just like Moses. Jesus is sent to save His people, just like Moses. On Friday we’ll hear about preparation for the Passover – Moses teaching and telling the people what to do to get salvation, exactly what Jesus does. These are parallels between Moses and Jesus.

So people thought Jesus might be Moses. Well, we certainly know He was not. How do we know that for sure? Well, the gospel writers make sure we know because they have the event of the Transfiguration, when Jesus meets Moses. So they are not the same.

This reading this morning is about the Pharaoh, a new Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph – he has forgotten the history of Egypt and the Jewish People, how great they were. It’s an example of what we see all the time in the world: this fear of the foreigner; oppression of minorities. ‘Make their lives a misery, stop them having children’, this is the cry that goes up, a fear of strangers, a fear of ‘being swamped’; and horrible ideas that mean that people must be destroyed…. Twenty years since the awful massacre in Srebrenica, isn’t it dreadful. You may have seen the programmes on TV. But it’s a dreadful thing SO CLOSE TO HOME here in England. And the problem is, as is so often the case with these things, it requires a politician to whip up the peoples’ prejudices to get things going. The Pharaoh is doing it in today’s story, he’s ‘playing to the gallery’… there are the Jewish People integrated into the economy of Egypt. The economy has become their god. Don’t we see parallels here? People say that we must protect Europe against all these people who are fleeing for their lives because ‘it will affect our economy’. ‘It costs too much to take these refugees in.’ Oh dear!

‘Planned economy’. Again, a parallel with today in the Book of Exodus – we currently have a suggestion before Parliament that if you have more that two children, there should be no child support benefits for those children in need if they are the third or more child. This is dangerous territory. Why? Well they tried it in India, they tried it in China, the ‘one child policy’. Disastrous. It has really gone badly wrong, causing dreadful misery.

So you’ve got to be really careful that we don’t worship the economy at the expense of God’s children.

And the final issue, the big one really. The ‘elephant in the room’ in this country… we don’t talk about it. The Catholic Church does: abortion. This is what the Pharaoh is proposing. Abort all the male children. Do you see what he is doing there? You get rid of the men, the women are left. They can integrate, they can marry the Egyptians. Get rid of the Israelite men, because ‘they just keep marrying each other and it gets worse and worse.’

The midwives refused to do it. That detail is left out of today’s reading (verses 15 – 21), but it’s actually the bit that says the midwives wouldn’t do it. We rejoin the story at verse 22 and the Pharaoh says ‘throw all the boys born to the Hebrews into the river, let the girls live.’ He summarises it in a brutal way.

We have people working in the medical professions who are discriminated against because they do not wish to be involved in that sort of thing, just like the midwives four thousand years ago.

It’s a sad story, but it is one that ends with tremendous hope for us. I’ve just given you a picture of what’s coming.

Join me on the journey for the rest of the week, as they say on the telly.

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