I am teaching a Sunday School class with the working title of “Truth speaks to Power.” This week and next, we are examining the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh.
As much as I would like to be Moses, I feel like someone who has been leveraged, coopted, forced, tricked, slid, eased into the power structure as a helpful cog. I have taken the easy-out. I feel uncomfortable in this position because I see the “violence inherent in the system.” But the bridle is not that uncomfortable; I am useful. I vacillate between feeling like one of Pharaoh’s advisors, one of the powerful members of the elite; or being one of the educated, assimilated Hebrews, perhaps a designer of pyramids.
In class, Anne shared the story of a man who is coming into the law library where she works. This is a public facility at the county courthouse, and he is not causing a problem. He comes in the morning at 8:15, washes up in the bathroom, and then parks at a computer terminal. He leaves promptly at 4:45. He showed up in November, just as the weather turned colder. The staff has discussed this situation, and they have decided to treat him like any other patron. He is welcome to stay for as long as he follows the rules, the Law.
Hearing this, I am reminded of a story from Reluctant Pilgrim by Enuma Okoro. She tells of visiting an assimilated friend (let’s call her Anne, too), who lives comfortably in New York, married to a husband with a mainstream job. Anne is socially active, socially conscious; but she is also in relatively-comfortable circumstances in comparison to Enuma, who is trying to answer her call, who is trying to write. On the way home from dinner, they pass-over (or come-across, step-around) a homeless man who has passed out on the sidewalk. Anne stops, replaces the man’s shoe on his foot, places his stocking cap on his head. All the while she keeps up a one-sided, caring conversation, asking for his permission to help him out. Meanwhile, Enuma is becoming more uncomfortable and aware of the scene they are making. Finally, Anne places the remains of the cookies she has been eating as her dessert in the man’s coat, and then says a prayer for him. She then turns for home, as if nothing has really happened. Reflecting on this episode, Enuma realizes that Anne was expressing a sincere concern for the man, and her own dis-ease with the event served to convict her of her-own selfishness.
In Sunday School, we read the Moses origination story from Exodus 2.
Exodus 2:1-10 Pharaoh’s daughter takes pity on a Hebrew baby [Nelson’s revised version]
[About 400 years after about seventy-or-so Israelites (Jacob, his twelve sons, their immediate families, slaves, and livestock) came to Egypt and settled down, there was an evil Pharaoh, who ordered all Hebrew boys to be drowned in the Nile.] In this time, there was a Levite man and woman who were married. The Levites were the priests of the Hebrews. They had a son, and they hid him in their home until he was three months old.
When they could no longer hide him, they made a wicker basket for him. They covered it with tar to make it water-proof and placed the basket in the reeds of the Nile. And his sister (Miriam) watched over the boy in the basket from a distance, guarding him.
One day, one of Pharaoh’s daughters [Amisi, meaning flower] came down to the Nile with her friends to take a bath. Amisi saw the basket and sent one of her friends to bring it to her. When she opened it, she saw the infant and heard his cry. She took pity on him and said, “This must be one of the Hebrew’s children.”
[Amisi knew very well what her father, the Pharaoh, wanted her to do; she knew what the law required. She was supposed to kill this child. And she could have easily done it, right then and there. She could have thrown him into the Nile. But she didn’t. While Amisi was standing there, Miriam emerged from her hiding place. She was full of courage, ingenious. ]
Miriam said, “Should I go find a nurse for you? Someone from among the Hebrews who can nurse the child?”
[Amisi knows what she is getting into. She can connect the dots. This girl is the boy’s sister. The nurse will be his mom. Together (Amisi and Miriam) skirt the law.]
Amisi said, “Go ahead. Take this child, and find a nurse for him. Raise him. I will pay you a fair-wage for this. And when he is old enough, return him to me.”
Amisi said, “I name you Moses, because I drew you out of the water.”
[Then she handed Moses to Miriam. That afternoon, Amisi filled out the necessary papyrus work (and endured Pharaoh’s wrath) to make sure no harm would come to her adopted child.]
- How long do you think Moses was in that basket, covered with tar, by the Nile?
- Do you think Pharaoh’s daughter knew that Moses’ mom would be nursing him?
- Do you think Miriam put the basket where Amisi was likely to find it?
It wasn’t until Monday that I realized I was Pharaoh’s daughter, who is granted the small but pivotal role of rescuing the infant Moses from extermination. I am the one who is privileged, yet has eyes to see what others might miss, ears tuned to the cry of the vulnerable. If I can spot a basket hiding in the reeds and act on those cries, get out of my own world, be Christ-like; perhaps even without understanding where it might lead, I can help emancipate the oppressed.