By Elizabeth McColl
Lectionary reading for 3/3/2022: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Exodus 5:10-23; Acts 7:30-34
Selected passage for reflection: Exodus 5:10-23 (NRSV)
Exodus 5:10-23 (NRSV)
So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.’” So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.” And the supervisors of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and were asked, “Why did you not finish the required quantity of bricks yesterday and today, as you did before?”
Then the Israelite supervisors came to Pharaoh and cried, “Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.” He said, “You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.” The Israelite supervisors saw that they were in trouble when they were told, “You shall not lessen your daily number of bricks.” As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. They said to them, “The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Then Moses turned again to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
It has been two full years since most of us became aware that an unknown virus, which started in a place geographically far removed from our home, would soon dramatically altar pretty much every aspect of our lives. No matter who we were, or in what demography we lived, every one of us would be affected. Every piece of our lives needed to change to accommodate the unknown of what lay ahead. We learned that scientists had been predicting such a scenario and it was only a matter of time, given the way in which we humans continued to use (and abuse) creation’s resources. Environmentalists had long warned governments and change makers of the consequences of human made disturbances and natural ecological processes that would disturb the intricate balance of our environment. Various factors, such as natural disasters, human interferences, or animal interaction could not continue to go unchecked for much longer without calamitous repercussions.
So what has all this got to do with our Scripture passage for today? While I was reading these words from Exodus, I thought of our fellow humans who were (and still are) on the front lines in health care, not only our physicians and clinical staff, but those employed in cleaning and waste disposal services, operations and schedule makers dealing with deaths and crises trying to keep everything going. Delivery drivers and care home workers earning minimum wages, on whom so many fully relied for their survival doing crucial work and grocery store staff who were subjected to abuse if shelves were empty or products not available in what we consumers have come to expect as “normal.” There was so much unknown 2 years ago, and not a huge amount of certainty about what will be known in the future.
The Israelites had been enslaved by the Egyptians, and their leader, Pharaoh, a man with so much power and control, frustrated by this unknown and apparently all powerful LORD the enslaved people worshiped. So Pharaoh proceeded to wield his absolute power and considerable control over the Israelites using brutal tactics to mask his fear of the unknown.
Operating out of fear and vulnerability can lead us to act in ways we would never have considered when life rolls along, seemingly predictable and sure. When fear overrides us and takes our thinking captive, we leave ourselves open to real trouble. We start to blame others for our distress and while there might be a fragment of truth in their actions taking their toll on us, the reality is most likely to do with our choices we made along the way, however individually or collectively.
Make their work harder, Pharaoh says, but demand the same output with fewer resources. This led to lots of defensiveness and blame; to Moses and Aaron, and ultimately to God. Moses’ fear was real. So was Pharaoh's, and the people thought they were lost. Fear had seemingly won. And yet, Yahweh was still the LORD, God Almighty.
I know when I am feeling diminished by fear, I tend to react in unwell and defensive ways. Think of a recent situation where you have realized fear is leading your responses.
Can you settle your mind and take a few minutes to settle your body and spirit through long, slow inhales and even longer exhales?
Can you invite the Spirit into your whole self and offer your fear to Her?
Ask if fear has something to say to you?
Try sitting with that emotion and listen to what she may be saying to you. If fear of the unknown is speaking loudly, ask the Great Spirit to sit close to you and stay with you to explore what might be triggering your responses.
Can you feel a change in your body - a physical change?
Say the words out loud; “ I feel in fear, I feel afraid.”
Once spoken, can you feel a change in your body?
Great Spirit, you know me and you know where fear takes over in me. Infiltrate those spaces. Remind me I am not alone in my emotions. You are always with me, always beside me to watch over me, within me to remind me I need not be afraid whatever calamities threaten to take over my thinking. Help me relax into You.
About the Author
Elizabeth is an ordained pastor and vocationally a musician and educator, working with under-resourced young people using music as a way to social change and educational justice. Based in the beautiful city of Edinburgh, Scotland, she is never known to live a day without a good mug of coffee and lemon infused water.