2/17/19 – Oppressors, bullies and racists

Posted on : Feb 14th, 2019 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Why is “oppression” and liberation from oppression such a dominant theme in the Bible?  And why ISN’T it a dominant theme in the contemporary Christian Community?

The entire book of Exodus, all 40 chapters, is focused on the people of God’s enslavement by the Egyptians.  While this story makes for great movies such as “The Ten Commandments” and Disney’s “The Prince of Egypt,” the real-life reality was that the people of God were ruthlessly beaten and abused as slaves. 

The central theme of the Exodus story is that God is the God of Liberation.  In this story, God “hears” the cries of the people, calls to Moses and Aaron to be God’s spokesperson to Pharaoh, and commands Pharaoh to “Let My People Go!”  Pharaoh, like most oppressors, isn’t about to “let his slaves go.”  It takes ten plagues – calamities – with each plague more disastrous than the last, to get Pharaoh to “Let God’s People Go.” 

About half of the book of Exodus describes the struggle to be set free, while the other half describes the difficulty of claiming the journey from slavery into freedom.  It is a harrowing story, which should always remind us that being set free is not just finally having freedom but learning how to live anew with this new found freedom.

The gospel reading this Sunday is also a profound story about learning to live anew.  It is one of the most unique stories in the Bible because in this particular story, Jesus is the oppressor.  He doesn’t get it.  He is limited by his own world view and responds to a woman in need with a nasty, racist comment. 

The story is about a Gentile woman.  By birth she is a Syrophoenician (Greek), by religion she is a Canaanite.  In Jewish culture at the time, she was a pagan, a foreigner to their culture and outside the covenant.   For this she was despised.  The Canaanite woman has a daughter who is ill and comes to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter.  She is persistent and unrelenting, willing to endure humiliation on behalf of her suffering child.  Jesus doesn’t have any time for her.  He basically tells her to stop bothering him, shut up, and go away.  But she persists.  In anger, Jesus hurls a racist slur at her.  She takes that slur and turns it right back on Jesus.  Jesus recognizes her as a woman of great faith, and heals the woman’s daughter, as she requested.

From beginning to end, our story of faith is one of being set free from oppression and learning to live a new life in a new way.  But if that is so central to our story of faith, why ISN’T it a dominant theme in the contemporary Christian Community?  Why do we look the other way when we see people being oppressed?  Why are we so silent when we should speak up?    That is well worth exploring, which is what we’ll do this Sunday.



Exodus 5: 1–18

Pharaoh places an even greater burden of work on the people of Israel.
[the Inclusive Bible, slightly edited by Dan Smith]

After this, Aaron and Moses went to Pharaoh and said, “These are the words of Our God, the God of Israel: ‘Let my people go, for they wish to observe a pilgrimage festival in the wilderness.’”  Pharaoh asked, “Who is this god of yours, and why should I listen to any demand to let Israel go free?  I do not know this god, and I will not let Israel go.”

They replied, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us.  Please allow us to travel a three days’ journey into the wilderness, where we will offer sacrifices to Our God, or we will be confronted by plagues, or the sword!”

But the ruler of Egypt said, “Aaron and Moses, who are you to take these people from their work?  All of you, get back to your work!”  Pharaoh continued, “Look at all the people in this land – and you’re holding up their work!”

That same day Pharaoh gave instructions to the slave-drivers of the people and the overseers.  “You will not gather straw any longer for the workers making bricks.  Let them gather their own straw.  But don’t lower their brick quota.  They are to make as many bricks as before.  These people are lazy, and this is why they whine, [saying] ‘Let us go to offer a sacrifice to Our God.’  Let them have more work, more servitude!  If they work hard enough, they’ll stop listening to false messages!”

Then the slave-drivers and the overseers went to the people and said, “Pharaoh says, ‘I will not give you any more straw.  Go out and find your own straw wherever you can.  But not one load of bricks will be subtracted from your daily quota.’”  So the Hebrews scattered throughout the country scavenging for bits of straw.  The overseers harassed the workers, telling them, “You must meet your daily quota, just as you did when we provided you with straw every day!”  The Israelite officials, who had been appointed by Pharaoh’s overseers, were beaten, and asked, “Why haven’t you met your quota of bricks as you did yesterday and the day before?  As yesterday, so today!”

Then the Israelite officials complained to Pharaoh.  “Why do you treat your subjects the way you do?  We are not provided with straw, but we’re still told, ‘Make bricks!’  We are beaten, but it is not we who are at fault – the fault is with you!”

Pharaoh replied, “Lazy!  You people are lazy!  That’s why you keep saying, ‘Let us go into the wilderness to worship Our God.’  Now get out of here!  Go to work.  Find your own straw and fill your quota of bricks.”


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