During Lent, I have been going a bit deeper with morning quiet time. I have, for years, read the scriptures appointed in the Morning Prayer office in the Book of Common Prayer. But while on Vestry retreat with my folks, we all promised each other that we would read the Daily Office–a commitment to deepening all of our spiritual lives, and particularly as leaders of a parish. Our plan was to then ask the parish and other parish leaders to do that with us during the Easter season.
Fortunately, I have had, at hand, my I-Phone app for Forward Day by Day, so reading the Morning Office has been easy. In the past couple of weeks, we have worked through the Joseph novella in Genesis, and at least one person has commented that they have loved reading this. He said he was seeing new things in it, deeper things.
Yesterday was the story of Joseph’s death, and burial. Today, we moved into Exodus. But I noticed something I had not paid much attention to before. The two Egyptian midwives, in the previous chapter, are named–something that is not usually done unless someone is important in scripture. They defy the Pharaoh and do not throw male Hebrew babies into the Nile. And God blesses them.
Now, in this new chapter, Moses’ mother has a baby boy. She successfully hides him for three months. But three-month old babies, with new-found sleep schedules and stronger cries, can not be hidden so easily. So Moses’ mother (who, by the way, is Jochebed, according to Numbers 26:59, but we don’t know that yet) prepares a special boat/cradle for the baby and places him in the reeds near the Nile.
What I love is her craftiness, her wisdom, her strategy. This mother seems to have known the daily bathing habits of Pharoah’s daughter. She knew when this wealthy young woman was going to come down to the Nile, accompanied by her women-servants, to bathe. And Moses’ mother placed him right where he would a) be safe (perhaps at low tide) and b) be found by a princess. But Jochebed did not just abandon her baby son. She left Miriam, her daughter, with him. So as babies will do, Moses cried, the princess heard him, and decided she would adopt him. But what then? She could not nurse him.
But Miriam–clearly as smart and strategic as her mama–piped up from nearby. “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Oh. That. Yes, what a good idea. So Pharoah’s daughter agrees, and of course the “Hebrew woman” the child fetches is the baby’s own mother.
Here’s the best part: Pharoah’s daughter, who clearly does not put two and two together, orders Moses’ mother “‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages’.” so the woman took the child and nursed it.”
Jochebed’s calculated strategy works far better than she might have imagined. Not only does she save her infant son from death, but she provides a life for him that will include wealth, education and a home. Better yet, SHE IS PAID FOR IT. In a culture of slavery, where her husband and other men are forced to “brick bricks” under a hot sun in Egypt, building buildings for a cruel ruler, she provides an income for her family.
As I read this passage this morning, this “I will give you your wages” popped off the page at me. Moses’ mother is, at this point, just an un-named slave. Yet she has incredible power. She, like African-American slaves in the United States in the 1700’s and 1800’s (and arguably beyond that), lived under oppressive conditions, where community mattered, and where strategy and courage were critical. I thought about the Ignatian Solidarity Network devotion, which I have also been following every morning on my I-phone (entitled “Lift Every Voice; A Lenten Journey Towards Racial Justice), and today’s meditation was entitled “In the Presence of Enemies.” While this reflection focused on Dr. King and his own enemies, the questions at the end were broader–about how enemies don’t have to be people. They can be “any kind of oppositional force in your life that keeps you from flourishing as you were created to do.”
So there are many forces in my, and your, lives, that oppose us, that hold us back. Today, I am strengthened by the silent, strong presence of those in our midst who–in the throes of conflict, oppression and political power–speak Truth to such power. Sometimes they do it with words. And more often than not, they speak Truth to power with their very bodies and minds. For such, I am deeply grateful. Jochebed, may your daughters keep on keeping on.