“Mostly they are the same lives. The same stories, over and over,” wrote David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. We endow our lives with stories. When your relationships were so alive, as your prayers were so alive and you wanted others to then have the same experience. Mostly the same stories, generation after generation. In search of the Promise Land. With a great restlessness. Carrying the fire, with the importance of the binding in the relationships, in stories within your own tradition, about pure love. With God’s intervention in the relationship.
Moses was born into a story whose history long predates him. Like Abram, Moses was a member of a “tribe” and like Abraham, he carried the idea of a new nation, after the burning bush, based upon Abraham’s idea of a place to freely sacrifice? A nation based upon blood, though it is thought that the young would never want to know about pain, never want to know about war, pestilence or death? The young do not, for the most part, want to hear of the never-ending plagues? They do not want to hear about Israel,named after the renamed Jacob?
There is this poetic justice of Passover, when contrasted to the times of the birth of Moses in Egypt. I wonder whether the Egyptians were then having kids? Behold, in the story of Moses, the outsider! To the Pharaoh, with the two kinds of people in his kingdom – those who were free and those who had become enslaved – there was this annoying Moses. Or had it been the savers and those who needed to be saved, as the slaves were making the Pharaoh look bad? Was this a fear, like in Sodom, of the growing minority of outsiders? [Lot, who had married a woman of Sodom, had been the only outsider.] Contrast the ambiance in Egypt in the times when Moses had been born to the ambiance in Egypt during the plagues. Death was all around? New life was not?
Note the separation if not a halving in this unsettling story. To be moved, like Abram, from his place of birth. The writers who record, unknowingly, an identity in stories, never mention the heart-break when you sacrifice a homeland? For the Pioneers, the FIRST time in the story of firsts. Born into a story whose history long predates me, note the Identity, here! The ones listed, in the metrics of measuring up to the past, to judge. So Abram’s first born son was half-Egyptian, though never in his early life had he seen the land of Egypt? After Egypt had saved the sons and grandsons of Jacob – after the Ishmaelites had saved the life of the prophet Joseph – wasn’t the threat HERE, in the times of Moses, to the Hebrew slaves whose identity comes from the LAND? Hadn’t that been the reason Abram left, in his Call, in the first place? When he sacrificed his father’s home? There is a threat when you identify so much – too much – with the native land?
Compare / contrast. The metrics of story. Miscasting Ishmael, as a son disowned, the story of Passover miscasts the slaves? The tradition of story – the Passover story – only makes sense in light of the larger narrative arc of God’s saving work with Israel – so much like the half of his mother’s family that Jacob came to discover, as he had moved in with them [those who had formed her]. Echoing this theme of fulfillment is, the larger narrative arc, from an every day invisible formation of his own creator, at what point you were felt to be half-slave? As you were losing your identity, in this more and more secular land, like in Egypt? In a slavery which consumed every moment of your life, without any law to protect you and your loved ones? When you were not free, the past and its tradition become so dispensable, in a secular world.
Formed to be different than those living in the secular world of The Egyptians. Concerning Identity …. what does make me belong here, even after The Call? Notice ever the saving LAND of Egypt, for more than 400 years? There is this hostility in the perspective to the past, over the power of the past that everyone has been born into, because the past carries a certain authority.
Passover. There is the past in the story. So a new nation, based upon Abraham’s idea …. like maybe Abraham once had considered what a son would be like? And is it ironic that his first-born son had been half-Egyptian, and it was Egypt that had saved the grandsons and grand-daughters of Jacob, who had been renamed Israel? In a story of the loss of innocent life, is there a missing perspective about this unsettling story of Passover. For the Pharaoh who lost his first born son – the one he thought would one day be king?
The Call, again. Did you hear the Call again, here, like Abram had been called out of the land to which he was born? And so another story about halving in this unsettling story of refugees, like Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael.
Was there a great irony, in a disconnect from the time of Joseph when he had saved not only his father and the sons of Jacob but he had saved the Ishmaelites and all of Egypt? Behold another story about those who were saved, those who belong not to a land but, to us, still – the 600,000 refugees and their God. And what clearly had happened in the story of Passover, at the time of Moses’ birth through the time when Moses killed an Egyptian to save a slave, is that under the Pharaoh the past and its tradition had become so dispensable.
Over and over there is, for the sons of Abram, The Call. And in Passover, it is Moses who heard the same Call, to move the descendants of Abraham through Sarah out of Egypt. The story is not about political Power but something else. Did you feel all of the emotions connected to leaving? “I envy the dead with somewhere to settle down … permanently,” said the Syrian widow who envied the dead, while leaving in 2015 her loved ones behind . . . to be moved, like Abram from his place of birth? Life as refugees, for forty years! Behold Passover! Note the halving/ separation in this unsettling story, as hearts are broken, as death is all around, but new life is not?
Had you read what had happened in Cologne on December 31, 2015, about the missing sacred, for younger people whose smaller attacks repeatedly have been discounted as random acts, by the secular leaders like Angela Merkel and the mayor of Cologne? It was like the gun violence, here, where I live. The secular world, in Belgium, treated Muslims from Morocco as victims who had no chance of succeeding, in life. What happens to a people who cannot be saved? To their Spirit? To move out of a kingdom, with powers of the monarch, into the land with more freedom where the majority ruled but you were always going to be the minority. You were not formed as the majority had been formed here. The KING of Morocco – unlike the Pharaoh – was happy to get rid of these discarded Moroccans who had come over time to sacrifice their identity? Clearly, these accused young male were giving up their religion and their identity which had taken up every moment of their life. Cast into a democratic republic, new belief filled the vacuum, that the end justifies the means? The young all around wanted consumer goods or some kind of worldly power over someone? It had been young Moroccan men in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, involved in sexual assaults. [The unresolved mystery for this writer is how so many Muslims claimed January 1 as their date of birth.] Behold their underlying anger, that accompanies a lost identity! What does the secular world not see about what had been left behind? Behold the emptiness in the story, in the stories of the great unsettling and an emptying out. Is it a wonder that ISIS – these pimps FOR sacrifice, for only their own temporal power – appeals to the refugees from a kingdom?
As you sacrifice a past, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the story of Ishmael had never been about a frothing rage at the colonialism of Sarah, using her handmaid to have a son. In the great unsettling, the story of Ishmael is not about a paternal Authority but something else – the spiritual power at work in an unsettling. The Call. His very own Call, just like the Call of Abram. And Hagar too listened to the voice of God, in another story of a saving love which comes out of the true sacrifice in leaving, as Abram once left.
Passover is the challenge to remember for the children the unsettling story of invisible splitting. So had Ishmael been a victim? When each of the Victims in the stories of sacrifice – Isaac, Ishmael, Jesus – left behind to their followers this boldnes-for-life identity, like for a chocolate chip cookie. The unsettling boldness passed on by Abraham, to all of his sons and grandsons? This Passover season [which does extend for eight days] recall with bold gratitude the insertion into a rich family history of this ancient tribe of Abraham, with the attachment to the arc of God’s saving work through Abraham and Sons, both in the Land of Israel and wherever you happen to live, after the Great Unsettlings. As a believer in one of the Abrahamic religions, consider the chocolate chip cookie and whether you had enough chocolate chips inside to even be considered a chocolate chip cookie, by both the inside and the outside world, or in the new world that you had entered. With forty years of exile, to come. What does happen when there is not a community of people there who had preceded me? It is said in Belgium, “a less-integrated Turkish community has resisted the promise of redemption through jihad offered by “radical” zealots. The Turks, as a result, had held on to their identity in a foreign land. Their children are not so split – YET – between the old world and the new. And speaking of “saving love,” it is Turkey and Jordon which are saving so many refugees!
Behold the land which had once saved the sons of Abraham in Egypt, if the leaders there always did not. Note the Ishmaelites who did sell Joseph – at a time when slaves were sold – in the “Saving” in act of buying. A caravan of Ishmaelites had been given Joseph, after Judah had had his brothers sell Joseph – for a price, each time. Behold Egypt in the story, of salvation! This selling of Joseph by the Ishmaelites, in the end, to the Egyptian, had saved him.
Behold the system, and the closeness to power in the story, in the household of the king! In the real world, behold The Pharaoh, counting the cost, 400 years later. And slavery was about humans looking for enough ease! Yes, the Ishmaelites had sold Joseph . . .to a chamberlain. Behold the pain of giving up, what you one day had had.
This ‘giving up’ was a Passover story. Just as saving or being saved, in the case of Moses, by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Living with the Egyptians before the split, with a closeness to power. Hadn’t it been a betrayal to the sons of Joseph who had saved all of Egypt to then enslave them? Behold the perspective of sacrifice: inside and outside over the devolution of sacrifice! “So where is the lamb, Abraham?”
From the saving LAND of Egypt, was it all of this LAND that needed slaves? Behold the invisible fertility which returned since the times of Famine! The grateful-for- having-been-saved slaves! When these people of Egypt had enough – Dayenu – and then forgot, by this point in the story, about all the people connected to how Egypt had been saved. So how, Moses, would the land be tended after our slaves were set free? What did a LAND do to a people’s spirituality, for these humans looking for ease! Behold the threat of attachment to a place, if the Israelites too much belonged? Behold The LAND as a character in the story, with the sell-out, with betrayal, of your one-time saviors! Did you have too much land or too much money if you ever considered purchasing a slave? Or not enough of your own fertile young kids to work the land?
With income and expenses, note the involuntary nature of his request to sacrifice your nation’s slaves, by this man named Moses. There would have been a revolt! In the betrayal part of the story, in the Akedah, hadn’t Abraham betrayed his son? How does that story connect to Passover? Why should the Pharaoh betray the Land and the future? Had there been a threat of attachment? So did these slave belong to Egypt? If your son never had a homeland, how would any of your descendants ever belong? Did a son make a father too attached to the world? Why HAD Abraham heard the Call to leave his home? And then the Call to sacrifice his only son? Whichever son!
It had been the chief servant who found Isaac, oh so damaged in the Akedah, as the reliance on the servants continued in this family, a wife. Hadn’t Jacob then betrayed Rachel by not saying no to the marriage with Leah? And then there were all the handmaid tales, with the sons and one daughter of Jacob, with sellouts, with betrayal, over issues of belonging? Or in a world with all of the arrangements and the arranging, in a world with dowries, was it the laws which determine belonging? Locate all the betrayals…. in Joseph tattling on his brothers; in his brothers plan to sacrifice Joseph; even in the revised arranging to sell Joseph into slavery, based upon who was free and who was a slave in this family? And Reuben! Yes, with the long-forgotten Reuben, did you ever see the voluntary nature of his sacrifice …. of the birthright? And wasn’t that what had saved Joseph in the first place? And by saving Joseph, Joseph had saved all their known world? To have sacrificed the birthright, and his own sense of attachment, in the name of love.
Eve. Did you ever feel her conflict over the very first commandment? In the one law about belonging in The Garden? Like in the same conflict for Reuben, in the story how he lost his birth right, over a handmaid, in times when the law recognized handmaids as wives except with respect to an inheritance, though it had been Reuben who had saved Joseph after he was thought to have lost his inheritance. And before Moses ever saved his people, there had been his sister Miriam who had saved Moses, risking her own life. In the name of sisterly love.
So wasn’t the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh – with the same deep emotions of his sister at the time that Moses had been born – over the recognition of the Spirit of God? After the God of Jacob once had saved all of Egypt, in a forgotten recognition of the God of Abraham? From out of The Call to KNOW – in sacrifice of Abraham’s son by Sarah – comes a recognized expectation to save. After Isaac is saved. And if you read the Quran, the same thing had happened to Abraham’s first born son. Unlike Ishmael, Isaac never physically leaves …perhaps because his faith is so shaken . . . as he is saved from Abraham’s image of God. Did you know of the involvement of a servant in the case of both these sons, after their own so personal involvement in the Akedah, then to find them a spouse? In Ishmael’s case, it was the handmaid/ mother Hagar who found him a wife, as Ishmael learned over a time of discovery that he was born as no traditional servant. Behold the Post Traumatic Stress in the stories of the Victim, to make OUR lives a blessing …”bless those in need of healing”….. when no one would ever be the same!
Behold the conflict! “Though you are holier than I am, your God is not my God. Yet!”
Enough! Note the point of enough between Pharaoh and Moses, in the halving/ separation in this unsettling story, in asking for a place for his people to “freely” worship. Moses was challenging the Pharaoh who was connected himself to “his” people’s worship? Behold the Clericalism of the Pharaoh, where Church and State were one, who acted as mediator between the gods and the world of men. After death the Pharaoh became divine, identified with Osiris, the father of Horus and god of the dead, and passed on his sacred powers and position to the new Pharaoh, his son. So compare / contrast the valuation connected to this blasphemy in Moses’ betrayal of the Pharaoh who had once saved him. Behold Moses, so perfectly formed by the Pharaoh, much like a prince of Egypt. “We are not giving up our slaves …. over matters of worship.” Ask Abraham Lincoln, about April 15, 1863, on setting the captives free, without any compensation? Dealing with loss. Of not just the work force. “We are not sacrificing our slaves,” over issues of our god in Egypt! Moses was asking the mediator as leader of the Church/State – a strong-willed monarch whose view of a rebellious slave-leader threatening old elites – to sell out existing religious belief in Egypt? Was Moses asking Pharaoh to connect worship to love?
Behold the story of Liberation Theology, long before the controversy of Liberation Theology of John Paul ll with his South American theologians! Mission creep, threatening “our way of life!” Did you feel the mission creep of church or state, based upon the series of plagues from your God – the one that my people did not freely come to – in a challenge by your God, rather than my God? Or to my people? Compare / contrast, in the metrics of story, of blood in the story of Passover. Compare the children of Joseph to what the descendant of Isaac discovered, so much like the half of his mother’s family that Jacob came to discover, as he had moved in with them. The miscasting half of the family that he had never come to know, perhaps only heard about? When you never felt a part of a family that you did not know? The tradition of story – the Passover story – only makes sense in light of the larger narrative arc of God’s saving work with what always seems missing. In stories with various degrees of closeness, did you ever note the descendants of Joseph WERE related to the Egyptians, and not in a step-relationship. Who should be saved? Who should save, when these slaves were HALF- EGYPTIAN?
“Mostly they are the same lives. The same stories, over and over,” writes David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. As the first plague and the last plague involved a plague of blood.
Behold the rock of power meeting the pluralistic theological sands – shifting sand – of your slaves. Compare / contrast the metrics of story, as the blood of the lamb had saved the first-born sons of the Israelites, the Pharaoh was not quite so blessed. And did you hear the voice of Isaac from the Akedah on the story of Passover, about the whereabouts of the lamb? Did you ever paraphrase Isaac over his ‘lamb’ question? So where is The ‘Saving’ love of prophets, formed to be different than those living in the present day secular world? When power and position of Church and State were One! A perfect first-born son! Behold The Call – behold all the chances in his very own Calls in the story – that the Pharaoh did not heed, as another Pharaoh once had when it came to the dream of the Prophet Joseph. And as a result, behold the intense deep emotional grief so personal all over Egypt, over all the perfect first born, considered to be pure Egyptian, lost!
Larry Gillick Ascension Thursday Commonweal
Creighton Online Ministries