Tag Archives: identity

Tears and Gears

By Tangopaso – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16753688

 

As the gears of the machine we’ve wired ourselves into grinds to a screeching halt
This system which was fueled by sweat and creativity and occasionally lubricated by blood
Whose thrums and hums we’ve synched the rhythm of our lives and thoughts to
And we find ourselves in this forced sabbatical as time seems to slow to a crawl
And the machine which daily accepted our offerings closes its gaping maw
Perhaps we wonder if we were merely a parasite on this clunking monstrosity
Maybe we might discover that we were engaged in a symbiotic relationship
Or we may perceive that the machine was slowly but steadily feeding on us
That the lifeblood it gave was more precious than the benefits it provided
And we were merely living batteries tied into the matrix that we powered

The machine is down for maintenance and perhaps we are as well
And when it restarts, which will inexorably occur when this pause ends
What will the relationship between our tears and its gears be?
Will we give our blood and sweat so willingly, be wired in so completely?
Will it be lifegiving to synch our energies to the beat of its mechanical heart?
Or will our relationship change, will the machine change, will we?
What will this unscheduled maintenance for both mean for we and it?
May this forced sabbatical allow us time to listen to the rhythm of our souls
The beat of our own heart, the feelings of our mind, and the language of our body

Matthew 12: 46-50 Redefining Community

James Tissot, The Exhortation to the Apostles (between 1886 and 1894)

Matthew 12: 46-50

Parallel Mark 3: 31-35; Luke 8: 19-21

46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Central to one’s understanding of identity throughout the ancient world was the family and not merely the nuclear family of father and mother, brothers and sisters. There is a reason that one of the ten commandments is dedicated to honoring the familial bonds and relationships and why Matthew spends seventeen verses at the beginning of the gospel narrating the genealogy of Jesus. Yet, within Judaism, there is always a higher calling to follow God than one’s family. This is particularly highlighted in the Abraham narrative which begins with Abram (later renamed Abraham) being separated from his family:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. Genesis 12: 1-2

Even the bond between father and the long-awaited son Isaac is to be secondary to Abraham’s commitment to the LORD his God.

He (God) said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” Genesis 22: 2

Throughout Matthew’s gospel we have seen Jesus insisting that following him is more central than one’s commitment to family. In fact the arrival of Jesus may bring conflict within those relationships: a disciple is to follow Jesus rather than burying his father (8: 18-22), family members may betray other family members over conflicting views of Jesus (10: 21-22) and the presence of Jesus will create strife within families but the followers of Jesus are to love Jesus more than familial relationships. (10: 35-37) The people hearing Matthew’s gospel may understand these broken familial relationships at a personal level, but here they also hear Jesus elevating them above the level of his own earthly family. If they have given up their family, the community of those gathered around Jesus has become their new brothers and sisters.

Others will attempt to define Jesus from his family relations:

“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” Matthew 13: 55-56

And while the community of family is important for Matthew it cannot be central, only Jesus can occupy that position. Jesus is not opposed to families, many of his miracles are requested by family members and one of his conflicts with the Pharisees and scribes will center around keeping the commandment to honor father and mother (Matthew 15: 1-20). Yet, Jesus also occupies a place that previously only the God of Israel could occupy. He is one who can ask those who follow him to be willing to leave family behind so that they can be blessing to the nations.  After the rich young man has gone away grieving his unwillingness to give up his possessions to follow Jesus, Peter asks: “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” and Jesus’ answer in addition to their positions judging Israel includes “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundred-fold, and will inherit eternal life” (19: 29)

Many Christians in Matthew’s time and beyond have experienced broken families and have needed the community of disciples to be mother and brothers and sisters. Here Jesus also embraces this community of disciples above those family relationships which cared for him. Jesus is creating a new family, a new Israel and like God’s call to Abram, there are times where Jesus’ call means leaving previously central relationships behind, but it also involves the formation of a new family network to support and care for one another.

Matthew 11: 1-15 Jesus and John the Baptist: Identity, Time and Authority

Saint John the Baptist in Prison Visited by Salome, Guernico (1591-1666)

Matthew 11: 1-15

Parallel Luke 7: 18-28

1 Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone with ears listen!

Jesus concludes the instructions for his disciples, and we return to narrative where we are again confronted with the question of Jesus’ identity and authority. In chapters eight and nine we were drawn in a rhythm of stories of acts of power which disclosed Jesus’ identity and authority combined with stories interjected which point to the character of discipleship under Jesus. After Jesus completes his instructions for his disciples his encounter with a group of John’s disciples returns us to the reflections upon Jesus’ identity in chapter eleven which will use language strikingly similar to some other New Testament authors and link into themes in Paul (in this section), John (in the next section) and again Paul (in the final section). While Matthew may not develop these themes in the same what that Paul or John will it does at least allude to some common language and understandings about Jesus’ identity already being present in the time of the compilation of Matthew’s gospel and continues to point to Jesus’ identity being greater than even a title like Messiah (or Christ) can encompass.

The opening verse of chapter eleven transitions us from the instruction to narrative in a pattern commonly used in Matthew’s gospel (see also 7:27; 13:53; 19:1 and 26:1). The language of this transition is also similar to the language that Deuteronomy narrates Moses using at the end of each of his teaching of the twelve tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:1, 31:24 and 32:45) and further heightens the connection between the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve disciples.  The translation of the Greek teleo here as ‘finished’ is appropriate and contrasts to the normal translation of the same term in Matthew 5:48 as ‘perfect’ which I address at length in that section. The word translated ‘instruction’ (Greek diatasso) has a firmer sense of commanding, ordering or directing and it reinforces the position of Jesus as one to give orders and to send out these followers into the prepared fields for harvest. Jesus may have completed giving instructions to his disciples, but he now moves towards the continued proclamation of the kingdom of heaven and teaching about how to live as a community under that kingdom to the cities on his journey.

Jesus has sent forth his disciples but in the presence of the crowds he receives the disciples of John who come to him and question his identity. John has heard in prison of what Jesus is doing, and the words behind the ‘what the Messiah is doing’ is literally the work of Christ (Greek erga tou Christou). Christ and Messiah are the same word (Messiah is the transliterated Hebrew and Christ is the transliterated Greek) and it refers to one who is anointed to rule. While Christ or Messiah or the Latin Rex all refer to kingship and John the Baptist’s reference to the work of the Christ probably indicates an understand Jesus in terms of the awaited king to reestablish the Davidic line and bring about the renewal of Israel. Yet, the works that Jesus is doing is not the work of a warrior king, like David, (at least not against the armies of Rome) but rather there is a different quality to the work of Jesus. John’s query through his disciples asking, “are you the one?” provides another query into the identity of Jesus and its meaning.

Jesus’ answer refers to the works narrated in chapters eight and nine, but their form also points back to language of Isaiah, particularly 35: 5-6:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongues of the speechless sing for joy.  Isaiah 35: 5-6a

Being the Messiah or the Son of David is redefined in terms of healing rather than military conflict. In fact, the opposition to the kingdom of heaven’s approach will be by those who use violence to bring about peace. The kingdom of heaven is not the violently maintained Pax Romana which is enforced (often brutally) by the legions of the empire or the kings and rulers of the various provinces of the empire. The Christ as embodied by Jesus embodies both the characteristics of a prophet like Elijah or Elisha (who would heal and even raise the dead), a Moses who can give instructions to the nation of Israel but also a king with authority.

Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples ends in another beatitude, like the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, where “blessed (happy) is anyone who takes no offense at me.” As I mentioned when discussing the beatitudes in Matthew 5, this takes us into the rhythm of wisdom literature where one is ‘blessed’ to be like the saying illustrates. Wisdom is going to be introduced in our next section, but here we are also by the Greek skandalizo which is the verbal form of skandalon used by Paul, for example in 1 Corinthians 1: 23:

but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block (skandalon-scandal) to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

Paul will in 1 Corinthians allude to the wisdom of God, which is Christ crucified, and as we will see as the conversation continues between Jesus and the crowd we will also be brought into an identification with Jesus and the character of wisdom. Here it is worth having one’s ear open to the identity being alluded to as Jesus redefines the expectations of Messiah initially in terms of healing and then highlighting the ‘offense’ that will cause many to choose the path of foolishness rather than wisdom.

As John’s disciples depart Jesus returns to the crowd to talk about the identity of John by extension his own identity. Jesus rhetorically negative responses about what the people went into the wilderness to encounter John the Baptist is a pretty direct jab at Herod Antipas. A reed shaken by the wind probably alludes to the coinage Herod Antipas issued which uses reeds on them. Reeds are common in Israel and while they are blown about by the wind because they are unreliable for strength. Jesus may be referring to the way Herod Antipas was ‘battered’ by John’s prophetic condemnation of his relationship with Herodias. This is sharpened by the ‘soft robes’ description. The word ‘soft’ can also be translated ‘effeminate’ which would be a strong criticism indeed in the ancient world. Herod is subtly accused of being weak, unreliable and non-masculine. John the Baptist is the contrast to Herod Antipas (even though he is imprisoned by him) and his role is that of a prophet and specifically the prophet sent to prepare the way.

Matthew uses scripture to point us to the identity of Jesus in surprising ways. Here he uses the same passage Mark quotes in relation to John the Baptist (see Mark 1:2 where Mark misquotes this as Isaiah). The reference is to Malachi 3: 1:

See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.

The use of Malachi is important because it is the end of Malachi where the hope for a return of Elijah comes:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. Malachi 4: 5-6

John the Baptist’s identity is linked to Elijah who prepares the way for the coming of the LORD, the God of Israel, and by at least allusion Jesus is linked to the LORD. Messiah as a title is insufficient for who Jesus is in Matthew’s gospel. It, like the Son of David, Son of God, and Son of Man it points to a portion of Jesus’ identity but ultimately needs to be redefined in the terms of the ‘works of the Messiah.’ John the Baptist may be greater than any who came before him, but in the dawning kingdom of heaven even the least of its citizens are now greater than John for they are a part of a new thing. The crowd hearing the proclamation of Jesus stand at a critical time for they are seeing what the prophets and the law and John the Baptist all prepared the way for. What they are seeing and hearing is the fulfillment of the prophetic and covenantal hope of Israel.

Verse twelve and thirteen can be read multiple ways. The NRSV renders ‘the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came.’ In translating this there are two significant issues: first in the kingdom of heaven’s ‘suffering violence and being taken by force’ and secondly in the sense the prophets and the law ‘prophesied until John came.’ The first passage the Greek biazetai kai biastai arpazoousin auten is behind this phrase. Biazetai and biastai are a related verb and noun. While the NRSV’s translation of third person singular passive biazaetai as ‘has suffered violence’ is the traditional rendering of a verb that indicates entering by force it can also mean that the kingdom of heaven has entered forcefully or entered in power and in resistance to that power violent men have tried to force their way into the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven does come in power as illustrated by the healings and Jesus’ authority of sin, the demonic, creation and even death demonstrated in the previous chapters, but it will not be established by violence. There are conflicting visions between those who are looking to Jesus in terms of a traditional king or emperor whose peace is maintained by military force. Jesus himself will be seized by violent men and they will attempt to maintain their power through their violence. There is a conflict between the kingdom of heaven and those violent men who maintain the kingdoms of the earth, and the kingdom of heaven is not powerless, but it will not respond like a king or emperor. The second translational issue is whether the law and prophets have ceased their function after John came and that prophesy is at an end. I would keep the Greek word order and render the phrase ‘the law and the prophets up to John prophesied.’ There is a temporal aspect to this Greek phrase but the way the English rearranges the words in the NRSV can be read as John the Baptist bringing an end to prophecy where the Greek simply states that those who came before John and including John prophesied.

Moving back out of the translational reeds we do have in this exchange between the disciples of John, the crowds and Jesus a continued reflection on who John the Baptist is and by extension who Jesus is. John the Baptist, for those willing to hear is Elijah, and Jesus is the one for whom Elijah is preparing the way. Messiah or Christ as it is applied to Jesus needs to be understood in relations to the ‘works of the Messiah’ demonstrated by Jesus. The kingdom that Jesus proclaims and reigns over is not a kingdom created by violent men like the conquests by David or Caesar, but it is not without power. Its power may seem like foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews in Paul’s language. Continuing in Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians and preparing us for the next section this ‘Christ Jesus, who became for us the wisdom of God’ is the Jesus who will be the one crucified by violent men is also the one in whom this paradoxical power of the kingdom of heaven resides. This power that allows, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

 

 

Exodus 34: Restoring the Covenant

 

Hebrew Letters for the Name of God

Exodus 34: 1-10 The LORD Reclaims Identity Post Betrayal

The LORD said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.” 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The LORD.” 6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed,
“The LORD, the LORD,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
 forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.”

 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9 He said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

 10 He said: I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the LORD; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

This chapter represents a remarkable turn in the story. In chapter 32 the people turn away from the way of the LORD and for the LORD this is an incredible betrayal which plunges the LORD into intense emotional pain and causes the LORD to distance from the people. The LORD’s wrath threatens to consume Israel, but Moses stands between God and the people. In chapter 33 Moses attempts to reconcile the people and God, and here, as we begin this chapter, the healing begins with God reclaiming God’s identity. There will be a new covenant, a new beginning and God will be who God will be despite of the peoples’ disobedience.

Pain can threaten to obscure our identities and can cause people to act in ways that seem discordant to the way they would normally act. In Exodus, the LORD’s merciful and gracious nature is threatened by the other portion of the LORD’s identity that expects faithfulness and obedience. The LORD’s emotions in Exodus are surprisingly human in nature. Yet, here after a time of grieving and making sense of the broken relationship the LORD moves in the direction of forgiveness and reclaims the identity the LORD chooses.

The name of the LORD is proclaimed multiple times and there is an almost joyous quality in this proclamation. This seems to be a moment of rediscovery for God and then we for the first time hear what is known as the Thirteen Attributes of God. These attributes are repeated fourteen times throughout the Hebrew Bible and alluded to many others. (Myers, 2005, p. 264) Within God’s identity lies a paradox: forgiving iniquity, transgressions and sins yet also accountability for iniquity. The LORD chooses to be both gracious and just. The LORD chooses to be slow to anger and yet to remain in Ellen Davis’ words a ‘fool for love’ (Davis, 2001, p. 153) God chooses the path of being vulnerable to the people of Israel.

Many people I have talked to question the final portion of these thirteen attributes where it talks about visiting the iniquity of the parent upon the third and fourth generation. On the one hand, this contrasts the steadfast love that goes until the thousandth generation which attempts to contrast the expansiveness of God’s steadfast love with the limited nature of the judgment of God. It also is something that God will respond to in Jeremiah 31: 29-30 where the children will no longer be held accountable for their parent’s sins but instead everyone will be accountable for their own sins. Finally, it is also something that I have seen play out within family systems where an iniquity, violation, brokenness or sin has impacts not only on the person who commits it but for generations to come. Regardless this is a part of the paradox of God’s identity, a God who refuses to be taken for granted, a God who cares enough to be wounded by the brokenness of God’s followers and yet chooses to be merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

God has chosen to reclaim God’s own identity and now God chooses to reclaim the people of Israel. God again moves towards them, restates that God will provide for them and go with them as they move toward the promised land. This is one of the steps toward a renewed relationship. God chooses the people again and reenters into the covenant with them. God moves beyond God’s pain and back towards God’s people.

Exodus 34: 11-28 Restating the Commandments

 11 Observe what I command you today. See, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. 13 You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles 14 (for you shall worship no other god, because the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God). 15 You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice. 16 And you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons, and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods.

 17 You shall not make cast idols.

 18 You shall keep the festival of unleavened bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.

 19 All that first opens the womb is mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.

 No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

 21 Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the festival of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the festival of ingathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year.

 25 You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven, and the sacrifice of the festival of the passover shall not be left until the morning.

 26 The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

27 The LORD said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. 28 He was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

Several portions of the exposition of the law are revisited here as the covenant is reestablished. Verses 11-16 restate and heighten the words of Exodus 23: 20-33 where the commandment not to have other gods is highlighted in the context of their coming occupation of the promised land. Here in addition to making no covenant with the people of the land they are also told not to intermarry with them. The people have already shown a predisposition to copy the practices of the other nations and this serves as another reminder that they are to worship the LORD alone. After the command not to create idols is restated there is a reminder of the festivals of Exodus 23: 14-19, the reminder of the dedication of firstborns which is outlined in Exodus 13: 11-16, the essential nature of Sabbath in Exodus 23: 10-13. While I could restate much of what I have written before exploring these commandments here I think it is important to highlight the necessity of restating them as the covenant is being renewed. With the new tablets which bear the ten commandments (or ten words of God, see Exodus 20) there is also a renewal of the expectation of living in obedience to these commandments. There is a new chance for the people to order their society in a manner that reflects the justice of a covenant people. Restating the expectations for the relationship between the LORD and the people becomes another step in restoring the relationship.

Statue of Moses at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Exodus 34: 29-35: The Radiance of Moses

29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

The time spent by Moses in the presence of God has a transforming effect upon Moses. While the changes are invisible to Moses they are clearly seen by Aaron and the people and it is a cause for fear. This time in God’s presence has made Moses different from the rest of the people, he continues to stand apart. In his role as mediator between God and the people he seems to have brought a little bit of God’s presence back with him.

The presence of God does change people. Moses enjoys a far greater intimacy with God than any other person among the Israelites. Moses has shown great faithfulness to God and to the people as well. Moses is more than an emissary for God or even a prophet of God but one who God trusts and speaks to like one speaks to a friend. Moses has something that even Aaron will never have. Aaron and the priests will need things to announce them before God and will only be allowed to enter God’s presence rarely. Moses dwells both with God and the people. Yet, Moses seems to belong more with God now than the people. Among the people Moses needs to wear a veil to fit in, but in God’s presence Moses doesn’t need to hide the radiance of who he is.

Belonging

Growing up I wanted to be a part of the cool kids
To sit at the right tables with all the beautiful people
The pretty girls and the athletic guys who others wanted to be
With the witty conversationalists and jokers who made everyone laugh
The teenage courts of royalty where these young princes and princesses danced
But I was just a commoner on the outside looking in on a world I imagined
 
As an adult I wanted to be a part of the biggest and the toughest
To run with the elite of the elites, to be among the company of the fearless
The warriors who were the modern knights of the round table
The new chosen fighters for king and country questing across the globe
Missions that would save the realm from the forces of chaos all around
But some things we are never built for physically or by temperament
 
Sometimes I feel I spent so much trying to belong somewhere else
In the dreams that I thought I was supposed to dream
Seeing the ways in which I imagined I didn’t fit into those adolescent imaginings
Standing on the outside looking in at those who lived those lives
Trying to find a place where I belonged and belonging nowhere
Until I learned I belonged only to myself and becoming me was the home I sought

Exodus 13- Sacrifice, Liturgy and Journey to Form a Chosen People

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Exodus 13:1-16: Setting Aside Firstborn and Time in Remembrance

The LORD said to Moses: 2 Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.

 3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the LORD brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. 5 When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month. 6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to the LORD. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory. 8 You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the LORD may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall keep this ordinance at its proper time from year to year.

 11 “When the LORD has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your ancestors, and has given it to you, 12 you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your livestock that are males shall be the LORD’s. 13 But every firstborn donkey you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. Every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem. 14 When in the future your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall answer, ‘By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 It shall serve as a sign on your hand and as an emblem1 on your forehead that by strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

It is a common religious practice to set aside that which is one’s best in the service of the deity one serves as a sign of trust, and in many ancient fertility religions there was a sense that if one does certain things to appease the god then fertility in the fields or flocks or family would be granted. The sacrificial system in Israel brings animals and they are sacrificed to the LORD, but the family would (as described in Deuteronomy, see Deuteronomy 14, 15, and 26) take part in the eating of the sacrifice as a celebration. This practice of setting aside the first born of animals that can be eaten and redeeming animals which cannot both demonstrates trust in the LORD providing future fertility for the flocks and herds as well as providing opportunities to bring together the family and community to celebrate the abundance of the LORD’s provision. Sacrifice for ancient Israel becomes a way in which the presence of the LORD is mediated through the tabernacle/temple and the priest and the acts of worship to the people. The setting aside of the firstborn animals also adds to the annual storytelling centered around the Passover and reinforces that the people are a people redeemed from the land of Egypt.

The redemption of the firstborn male children also serves as a reminder of the narrative of the people’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It is a reminder of the oppression of Pharaoh that sought to kill the male children of the Hebrew slaves (and to represent the oppressive form of government their society was not to represent). It serves as a reminder of the final sign where the LORD breaks the hold of Pharaoh on the people by the death of the firstborns of Egypt and as a reminder of the LORD’s power. Finally, it is a reminder of their own status as redeemed people. Their identity is not based upon their power or might but upon the choice and action of their God. This identity is reinforced through the cultic action of the priests at the tabernacle or temple in their future settled identity in the promised land.

Liturgy, which is what is being discussed here, becomes a visual narrative with signs that point back to the narrative of the Exodus. In a world where people would not be able to attend worship at the temple every Sabbath the festivals and sacrifices become opportunities for the families and communities to re-narrate their constitutive story and reinforce their identity as the chosen, and redeemed, people of the LORD. They become opportunities to reflect with thanksgiving upon the LORD’s provision through the fertility of their flocks and herds and to remember the way in which the LORD acted decisively against the might of the Egyptian empire.

Exodus 13: 17-22: The Long Road to Freedom

 17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.1 The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” 20 They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Paul Hardy, The Pillar of Fire, from the Art Bible (1896)

As the people of Israel begin their long walk to freedom, they begin by taking the circuitous route. The people, fresh from their lives as slaves of the Egyptians, are not an army ready for conflict and are not settled into their new identity as the chosen people of the LORD. They may go out of Egypt physically prepared for battle, marching in formations or carrying what weapons they may have. Yet, mentally they are not prepared for conflict nor are they prepared for the burden of freedom. Ultimately, even the long road to the promised land will not be enough to calm the fear of the people of Israel or to remove from their mind the desire to return to the fleshpots of Egypt. All journeys must begin somewhere.

Recently I was sitting with a family who was watching a loved one struggle with an unexpected illness which eventually led to their loved one’s death. As a part of their devotion one morning they read the verse eighteen which refers to God taking the people on the roundabout way and they found it speaking to their situation. They did not wish for their loved one to suffer but it took time for the family to come to the point to where they were willing to let go and they found the difficult period of waiting as a period of grace where they could come to terms with the grief they would soon experience and they made peace with the decision to follow their loved one’s stated wishes and to let him die rather than prolonging his life through intensive life support. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, discussing Maimonide’s interpretation of these verses, states, “God sometimes intervenes to change nature. We call these interventions miracles. But God never intervenes to change human nature.” Yet, in Sack’s words, “He (God) gave humanity the freedom to grow.” (Sacks, 2010, p. 99) Perhaps there are times where God grants an instantaneous change of heart but it is my experience that God often allows us to grow into that change of heart through the experiences and relationship that we live through in our lives. The LORD, the God of Israel, is a God of the journey, a God of the Exodus. The people will come to understand both who their God is and who, by extension, they are in relation to God through their experience both in their liberation but even more on their journey in the wilderness along the winding path from Egypt to Canaan and from slavery to their new identity as the people of the LORD, the God of Israel.

Exodus 12: Passover, Departure and a New Identity

Exodus 12: 1-20 Time, Ritual and Eating as Acts of Identity

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall hold a solemn assembly, and on the seventh day a solemn assembly; no work shall be done on those days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance. 18 In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you shall eat unleavened bread. 19 For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether an alien or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.

The taking of an enslaved people and transforming them into a chosen people, a nation of priests and agents of blessing for the entire world is a daring act of identity reconstruction. There will always be the temptation to revert to the former identity, to return to the land of Egypt and resubmit to the yoke of slavery when the call and covenant of the LORD becomes heavy or the passage of the wilderness or the people already occupying the promised land become a real and present danger. Identity is not something that is stated once and naturally becomes a part of one’s character, identity is formed through action, hearing, ritual and practice. If the Exodus is the narrative of Israel’s creation as a nation then Passover could be the ritual of renewal of that identity as it is handed on from generation to generation.

There are many ways in which identity is reinforced. We can trace the calendar most of Americans use back to the Julian calendar in 46 BCE so we may not consider the calendar as an important way of stating identity but you don’t have to spend much time studying ancient documents to realize how important the organizing of time is. For example, the Jewish Pseudepigrapha (A collection of documents from the centuries around the birth of Jesus which didn’t get included as a part of the bible) spends a great deal of time arguing about how to structure the calendar. Festival days which occupy the calendar shape the year and say when and how the year is ordered. For liturgical Christians, as another example, the year begins with the beginning of the season of Advent (four Sundays prior to Christmas) and this is held in tension with the Julian calendar which begins on January 1. Here time begins in the springtime in a time that celebrates the setting free of the people from their captivity in Egypt. Their year, like their new identity, begins and is centered around this act of liberation. The calendar is structured so that time becomes an active participant in the re-narrating this foundational story of the people of Israel.

Eating and practices also becomes an act of identity and remembrance. A couple of secular examples: when I served with 2d Cavalry in the U.S. Army there was a practice of always wearing our sleeves down (long sleeved battle dress uniforms can have their sleeves rolled up in garrison in warm weather for comfort) which while hot, especially serving in Louisiana, was the manner in which they would be worn in combat. It was a way in which the unit’s motto ‘Toujour Pret-Always Ready’ was reinforced through a practice. In the United States the practice of Thanksgiving, where certain foods are shared and eaten as an act of celebration but also a, perhaps unconscious, remembrance of the story told in elementary school of the first Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims in the new world of 1621. Eating becomes an act of remembrance and storytelling in the Passover. The food that is eaten remembers the events of the Passover where a lamb is slaughtered and the people eat unleavened bread. The festival and the food that is eaten also becomes a boundary marker for the people who are gathered. As I mentioned, in connection with Deuteronomy 14, if we understand the prohibitions legalistically we miss the point. The action of not eating leavened bread over the week of the Passover becomes a boundary marker which defines those who are a part of the community and those who are not. They are both expressions of devotion, reminders of a shared identity and bearers of the story. The lamb and the unleavened bread become visual words to pass on the story in a visual form across the generations.

Exodus 12: 21-28 The First Passover

 21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25 When you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” And the people bowed down and worshiped.

 28 The Israelites went and did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron.

The meal within the home, or within the community of faith as it may be practiced today has a teaching purpose and here that purpose is located in the first Passover. The identification with future Passovers with the first Passover goes with one of the basic question of children, ‘what does this mean?’ The act and the ritual becomes an opportunity to tell again the story of God’s action of liberation, of the constitution of the people of Israel as they were taken out of the land of Egypt, and the beginning of the people’s journey to becoming the people of God. In the ancient world the slaughter of an animal was often reserved for a special celebration. In a world before refrigeration the meat would have to be eaten in a short period of time and therefore it was often only at festivals where a large animal like a lamb, goat or bull would be slaughtered and used as a part of the family’s or community’s celebration. It would be a feast looked forward to.

The plant here is probably Origanum Syriacum (Syrian Oregano) pictured above rather than what we call hyssop today

This first Passover has an element that was unique to that celebration: the painting of the lintel and doorposts with blood with hyssop. Here the blood serves as a marker to keep the ‘destroyer’ traveling with the LORD away from the Israelite houses. The ‘destroyer’ may have been thought of as ‘night demon’ which was a part of the folklore of all ancient Near Eastern cultures or, more likely in a biblical context, an angelic being that was dispatched as a means of destruction (see for example 2 Samuel 24: 16f. and 2 Kings 19: 35). (Myers, 2005, p. 99) Hyssop, which was used to apply the blood, is used elsewhere in the scriptures as a means of purification of lepers (see Leviticus 14 and Numbers 19) and that also serves as a metaphorical purpose of purification of sins in Psalm 51:9.

Lamentations over the Death of the First Born of Egypt by Charles Sprague Pearce (1877)

Exodus 12: 29-36: The Final Sign and the Departure of Israel

 29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”

 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, 36 and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians.

In the previous chapter the death of the firstborns in the land of Egypt and the people asking for gold and silver from the Egyptians is foretold, now the final sign comes and the cry goes up from Egypt. The loss of the children of Israel and their enslavement which brought about their cry to the LORD now has its echo in the cry of their oppressor. The portrayal of the LORD in the book of Exodus is that of a passionately engaged and involved God taking sides with the people of Israel against the leaders and people of Egypt. Egypt has been devastated, it’s crops, livestock and future have been compromised in seeking to hold on to a reliance upon the enslaved people of Israel. Change is hard and rarely comes without resistance but here, finally, the pain of the signs and wonders is enough to allow Pharaoh and the people to relent. No further conditions or restrictions are placed on the people’s departure to go into the wilderness and worship the LORD. Yet, now Pharaoh is put in the position of the petitioner asking Moses to intercede and bring a blessing for him as well.

The people do receive jewelry and clothing as they prepare for their departure. There is an urgency to the scene as the people of an Egypt, wishing for an end to this drama, open up their wealth and resources to send the former slaves on the way. Perhaps for the Egyptians this is a time of repentance or paying for years of servitude. Perhaps for the Hebrew people this is a recompense for lifetimes of servitude and the beginning of establishing themselves as a new people who are independent and free. The jewelry and clothing may not be the most important things for a long journey but for the departure of the people to worship they are gifts that can be dedicated to the worship of the LORD their God.

David Roberts, The Israelites Leaving Egypt (1830)

Exodus 12: 37-42: Beginning the Journey and Time Renarrated

 37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. 39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

 40 The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. 41 At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 42 That was for the LORD a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the LORD by all the Israelites throughout their generations.

The journey of a mixed crowd of six hundred thousand men (not counting women, children) would lead to a departing people of over a million people, probably larger than two million. This is probably hyperbole, populations in the ancient world were much lower than today and even a million people would have been a very large portion of the population of ancient Egypt. Even at the beginning of the Exodus the people are not purely one ethnicity, they are a mixed group. The mixed group may refer to Egyptians and others who either chose to depart Pharaoh’s empire or who were linked to the community through marriage or other relationships. The narrative of a large group of people, Israelite and non-Israelite, and large herds making the initial stage leaving for the wilderness would have been a chaotic scene and yet an urgent one for the Hebrews and the Egyptians. The Egyptians want the people to depart prior to any additional punishment (or changes of heart within Pharaoh) and the Hebrews also now are finally having the opportunity to depart but are also driven out of Egypt.

Four hundred and thirty years of the Hebrew people in Egypt comes to an end. Their new calendar points to a new identity and the beginning of a new epoch. Time now becomes measured by their departure from Egypt and is reinforced by the vigil they are to keep. The move as a host, and military language begins to be used for their people, as they depart by companies.

Exodus 12: 43-51: The Ordinance Restated and Boundaries

43 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: This is the ordinance for the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised; 45 no bound or hired servant may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the animal outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 The whole congregation of Israel shall celebrate it. 48 If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to the LORD, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it; 49 there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.

 50 All the Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 That very day the LORD brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, company by company.

Defining group boundaries is an important function in any society. With the Passover being the constituting ritual for the people it is important to address who is to eat of the Passover. What does it mean to be a part of the community that takes part in this rite. Circumcision becomes the marker that a person chooses to identify with the Israelite community. Slaves become joined to the household and are circumcised and an alien in the land may choose to have their household circumcised and join in the Passover celebration and by extension the community.

 

Exodus 6: God’s Response and Moses’ Heritage

Exodus 6: 1-13 A God Who Speaks and A People Unable to Hear

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.”

2 God also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The LORD’ I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. 5 I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'” 9 Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.

 10 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” 12 But Moses spoke to the LORD, “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?” 13 Thus the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them orders regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, charging them to free the Israelites from the land of Egypt.

The same message may be heard very differently in different circumstances. When Moses and Aaron relay a very similar message at the end of chapter four the people receive in hope, they bow down and they worship. After the abuse received in chapter five the supervisors have called for the LORD to judge between Moses and them. Oppression changes our ability to hope and believe that a change can happen. One of the dynamics of abuse is that the abused person often feels they have no choice because all their energy is expended on survival. Slavery continues to breed hopelessness among the people and as daily survival becomes harder imagining a change becomes both more essential and increasingly difficult. It will not be words or promises that will move the people of Israel or Pharaoh away from the oppressor/oppressed dynamic.

The upcoming plagues upon the land of Egypt will be harsh and there will be much to wrestle with in these sections as they come up, but here we are at the end of what words can do. Ultimately words, without some type of recognized power and authority behind them, short of their power to convince do not sometimes break through the hardened worldviews of opposing parties. Moses may not be a person who is confident in his speaking ability but we have seen previously he is a man who acts when he sees oppression. Yet, here, where his previous words seem only to have increased the suffering and oppression of the people he again appeals to his poor speaking ability. He is unable to engender with these words of the LORD hope within the people of Israel or fear within the person of Pharaoh.

We as people who hear these words in relative comfort can also hear something new in this moment of revelation, something perhaps Moses and the people could not hear in their oppression engendered deafness. The name of the LORD, revealed to Moses on the mountain in chapter three, we now learn has not been previously revealed. Others have known the LORD and called the LORD by other names (typically describing an attribute of God: God almighty, God who sees, etc.) but now Moses hears again the unique name of the LORD. Again, there are the promises of the land of Canaan, the promise to deliver, the covenant promise that the LORD will be their God and they will be the people of the LORD, these things will unfold as we journey through the Exodus narrative, and yet all these promises are unable to heard at this time. Ultimately it will be in retrospect that the people will be able to look back and in light of the commandments remember “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)

We are moving from the time where the time of actions in the future will become the present of the narrative. If this were our story we would move directly into the confrontation between Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh, between the LORD the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt. Yet, there is one more pause before we move into this conflict. The LORD has revealed something of Godself in both name, heritage and promise and we have seen something of who Moses is in his actions. But for the people of Israel there is something else we need to know before we can move forward.

Theo van Doesburg, Moses (1906)

Theo van Doesburg, Moses (1906)

Exodus 6:14-30 Who are Moses and Aaron

 14 The following are the heads of their ancestral houses: the sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi; these are the families of Reuben. 15 The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the families of Simeon. 16 The following are the names of the sons of Levi according to their genealogies: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, and the length of Levi’s life was one hundred thirty-seven years. 17 The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimei, by their families. 18 The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, and the length of Kohath’s life was one hundred thirty-three years. 19 The sons of Merari: Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites according to their genealogies. 20 Amram married Jochebed his father’s sister and she bore him Aaron and Moses, and the length of Amram’s life was one hundred thirty-seven years. 21 The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. 22 The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri. 23 Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab and sister of Nahshon, and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 24 The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph; these are the families of the Korahites. 25 Aaron’s son Eleazar married one of the daughters of Putiel, and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the ancestral houses of the Levites by their families.

 26 It was this same Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said, “Bring the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, company by company.” 27 It was they who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, the same Moses and Aaron.

 28 On the day when the LORD spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the LORD; tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I am speaking to you.” 30 But Moses said in the LORD’s presence, “Since I am a poor speaker, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”

This is not how we tell a story because we see the world differently than people in the ancient world. We live in a world where we construct our identities, we are who we are because of our choices and actions is the narrative we try to live our lives within. Yet, in the ancient world you inherited your identity: you are who you are because of your parents, grandparents, etc. This is why the Bible and most ancient texts take extended sections for genealogies. Often an ancient person’s telling of who they are would be a narrative of not only their name but their name within a list of the ancestors. You still see this in the Middle East where names, Osama bin Laden for a famous example, revolve around this pattern (Osama son of (bin) Laden). Here what is interesting to me about this genealogy is its incompleteness. It begins with a telling of the ancestry of the tribe (Reuben, Simeon and Levi) but before it can get to the remaining tribes it holds up within the tribe of Levi focusing both on the upcoming divisions of labor among the descendants of Levi as well as the priestly heritage of both Aaron and Moses. Here for the first time the parents of Moses and Aaron are named: Amram and Jochebed and presumably Aaron is the older son based upon how they are listed. There is a long series of exceptions where the LORD chooses the younger rather than the older son (Jacob and Joseph for example in Genesis) and here is one more of those incidents.

Another unusual piece of this genealogy is that Amram and Jochebed are related more closely than would be allowed in Leviticus (see Leviticus 18:12) and yet here they are a man and his aunt who are lifted up as the ancestors of Moses and Aaron: the great leader of Israel and its first high priest. Again, this is one of those places where a close reading of a genealogy often renders a few surprises in the family tree.

I have done enough work with Family Systems theory and have spent enough time observing families as a part of my ministry within a congregation to know that we are never truly the crafters of our own story. We inherit a lot of our identity, knowingly and unknowingly, from our parent and their parents. Many of our opportunities are opened by the position and standing of those who came before us. In our world, we may simply attempt to judge Moses and Aaron based upon their position and actions but perhaps there is some wisdom in these ancient stories that pause and remind us who are the ancestors of the people in our stories and where are the roots of their family trees. Now that we know where Moses and Aaron came from we are ready to follow them into the rest of the story.

The Irrational Pieces of Our Identity: A Reflection on the Departure of the San Diego Chargers

la-chargers

Today I’m heartbroken. It isn’t for any particularly rational reason. Others today are worrying that they may lose their health coverage as congress continues its movement to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare to its foes). Some are worried about the approval hearings for many of the Trump cabinet picks who if approved may prove threatening to their civil rights. Both of those are rational fears that some of my friends have today. Yet, today my heartbreak comes from that irrational part of my identity that comes from that almost tribal affiliation that a person has with a sports team. For those who enjoy sports it can be an uplifting and heartbreaking drama as you root for a team, a place, individual players and ultimately you give something of yourself to them. My affiliation has been irrational from the beginning. Even though I have never lived in San Diego, have only been in their stadium once and have only visited the city a couple of times I have been a San Diego Chargers fan for decades. How did a person who grew up in Texas and who has never lived on the West Coast end up rooting for a California team? I’ve told the story to many people, and I believe it is true, that I really think that sometime in my preteen or teenage years I decided I liked the uniform. Growing up in Texas in the 80s, and now living in Frisco, Texas where the Dallas Cowboys have their training facility I should, by all rights, be a Dallas Cowboys fan but somehow through living in Louisiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and once again in Texas that loyalty has stuck. I have rooted for individual players like LaDainian Tomlison or Philip Rivers. I have wanted to like their coaches even though by the end of both Norv Turner and Mike McCoy’s tenures I was beginning to lose patience. I rooted for them to get the new stadium that someday I dreamed of being able to finally afford a trip to San Diego and tickets to a game to enjoy. Even though I have multiple jerseys, many shirts and hats and have paid to have coverage of their games here I know that I am not the type of fan that finances NFL teams anymore. Yet, even still, some part of my irrational identity was and to some level still is invested in them.

The decision to move the San Diego Chargers away from the city of San Diego after 56 years must have been a difficult one and I can at some detached level understand the frustration the team’s ownership has felt for the last several years attempting to find a way to build a stadium that is comparable to the other stadiums that are either built or being built across the NFL, not to mention the large stadiums built for college teams. I do believe that part of the appeal for me with the Chargers was San Diego and not only the beautiful location of the city and the tourist orientation of the city but also the similarities between it and my city I grew up in, San Antonio. Both are military cities, San Antonio is an Air Force/Army city while San Diego is Navy/Marine Corps, both have tourism as primary industries and both were large enough to support a professional team and yet still small enough to feel smaller than the Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and even the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex where I currently live. I like rooting for the smaller market team, it felt a little like rooting for the underdog. I suppose having lived on the opposite side of Louisiana from New Orleans I could’ve picked up rooting for the Saints in the early 90s, or living in southern Wisconsin in 2002-03 I could’ve picked up rooting for the Packers. I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a new team arriving since I lived in Oklahoma City when the Thunder arrived and they became one of the teams I rooted for and at times I would feel torn as they played the Spurs which I grew up rooting for.

What comes next for this unsettled irrational piece of my identity? At this point I don’t know. Perhaps as this year unfolds it will become clearer. Will I become the fan of the LA Chargers that I have been of the San Diego Chargers or will I migrate to some other team and some other group of players? I enjoy the game and the strategy of football and the level of play that is a part of the professional game so I doubt I’ll stop watching all together. But there is a sense of loss today. I can only imagine what those who live in San Diego and who regularly attended the games, even over the last couple dismal seasons, must feel.

Dan Fouts, the hall of fame San Diego quarterback said today that “the San Diego Chargers are dead” and today that is what it feels like. I was fortunate to have them going through one of their great stretches in a challenging time in my personal life and my career and I have a lot of memories of coming home and looking forward to that three to four hours where I could plug into their game with thousands of other fans and root for them in a time where they dominated the AFC West. Even the past two years with all the injuries and inconsistencies I have doggedly seen the potential in this team which seemed to fight hard each game, even when they seemed to find uncanny ways to lose in the end. I’m not going to go out and throw away my Chargers gear, at least not at this point but I am frustrated. I know that at the end of the year I intentionally did not buy any new jerseys or hats or gear knowing that this might happen. Like many in the San Diego Chargers tribe there is a sense of being heartbroken, betrayal and grief. Ultimately life will go on, but as with all grief it changes things.

The Actor

Various Balinese Topeng Masks, Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata shared under Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 3.0

Various Balinese Topeng Masks, Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata shared under Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 3.0

I wear the costume and take my place upon the stage of the world
Waiting for the moments when the spotlight shines my way
Learning my role, rehearsing my lines, hiding in my mask
Inhabiting an identity that fuses me and what is expected of me
Measuring pitch and tone and learning the moves to each dance
For that moment at center stage when the masses watch
And while in the that moment I become another thing
There is a small voice that wonders if they can really see me
The pretender trying to be something that he is not
Pulling people into the role I take on under the mask
Desperately wanting to fit in, to please, to hear the applause
And hoping the acclaim can fill the darkness once the lights go down
For when my time on stage ends who will I be?
Among all the roles I’ve played and the masks I’ve worn
My life that I have poured out as a libation for the audience
And the little pieces of each mask that refused to be left behind
While I wait for the next role where I can live someone else’s life
So that the world may delight in what they see through me
And wondering yet again if this time it is me or the mask I wear