Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
On one side of things, we have the Israelites. They have escaped slavery in Egypt only to find themselves stranded in the wilderness. To make matters much worse for them, Pharaoh and his armies are in hot pursuit. The Israelites have no weapons with which to defend themselves and are on foot. As for their leader, Moses does not appear to have been a great choice. After all, he’s the one who got them into this mess—with the Egyptian armies to their backs and a sea in front of them. And now Moses is telling them not to be afraid and to head right into the sea. In the verses that precede those before us today, the Israelites cry out to Moses. They want to know why Moses brought them out of Egypt only to have them die in the wilderness. Why couldn’t they have just stayed in Egypt and continued to serve the Egyptians? Good questions!
On the other side, we have Pharaoh and his armies. These are skilled warriors with all the power of a huge empire behind them. They are many and they are well outfitted with horses and chariots and plenty of weaponry. Of course, the Egyptians have all the confidence and, even more, arrogance to go with their material, strategic, and numerical advantages. They know this isn’t going to be a battle. It’s going to be a slaughter. And an easy one at that. And so they charge forth.
If I imagine myself witnessing this scene at the time, I can tell you that I would know who is going to win and who is going to lose. Who is going to live and who is going to die. It’s obvious. And, that being the case, I would think it also obvious who God favors. Of course, it’s the Egyptians. Why else would they have all the material advantages and worldly power at their disposal?
And I would be dead wrong.
It’s tempting (always has been) to think that worldly advantages—especially wealth, power, and strength—are signs of God’s favor. The prosperity gospel that many Christians embrace and that teaches that God rewards the faithful with riches is only perhaps the most obvious example in our times. But there are so many others. Likewise, it is tempting (and always has been) to think that those who are poor and weak and without advantage are outside God’s favor and perhaps even deserve what they get.
And then Moses stretched out his hand and God changed everything. God parted the sea. The Israelites ran forward. The Egyptians followed. God jammed the wheels of their chariots and caused confusion among the Egyptians. Once the Israelites were safe, God told Moses to stretch out his hand again. And the walls of water came crashing down on all of the Egyptian armies. And they perished.
It’s not always easy to tell whose side God is on. And our culture is very much in the habit of turning our gaze one way rather than another. Our culture prizes success and wealth and strength and power. This story is such a powerful reminder to us, if we can hear it, that God acts on behalf of the least of these. Shouldn’t we?
In the text from Matthew, we encounter another outstretched hand. This time it is Jesus’. This time the outstretched hand is not performing a God-aided miracle. Instead, it is calling us to be his brother or sister. And how do we do that? If we take the Sermon on the Mount seriously and all of Jesus’ teachings and parables we know that Jesus is of a piece with God. To be Jesus’ brother or sister we must also be on the side of those our culture despises the most—the weak, the poor, the forgotten, the losers.
After all, Jesus was a “loser”—nailed as he was to a cross. Can we, like God, favor “losers”? I pray that we can and will.
- Sue Trollinger