A Reading from the Book of Exodus (14:19-31)
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
When Israel came out of Egypt, *
the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
2. Judah became God’s sanctuary *
and Israel his dominion.
3. The sea beheld it and fled; *
Jordan turned and went back.
4. The mountains skipped like rams, *
and the little hills like young sheep.
5. What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? *
O Jordan, that you turned back?
6. You mountains, that you skipped like rams? *
you little hills like young sheep?
7. Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8. Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water *
and flint-stone into a flowing spring.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (14:1-12)
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (18:21-35)
Then Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In the Talmud, a Midrash is a creative exploration of or expansion on a biblical text. It often takes the form of a story and is intended as a way of looking at biblical narratives and their significance from a different perspective. One of the ancient rabbis, for example, offered this Midrash on today’s first reading.
After the Israelites had passed safely through the waters of the Red Sea and the waters had then flowed back to destroy the Egyptians, a great celebration began in heaven. The angels of God were singing and dancing and praising God for the great victory that he had won in setting Israel free.
The festivity continued until the angels turned and looked toward the throne and saw that God was not celebrating with them. Instead, God sat there weeping. A great silence enveloped the heavens as the angels slowly approached and asked God why he was not celebrating the great deliverance that he had brought to the Israelites. God replied, “How can I celebrate when my children, the Egyptians, are lying dead on the seashore?”
Often in life, looking at events and situations and relationships from a different perspective, maybe from a perspective that is directly opposite to our own, can make a significant difference in our attitude and in our approach to other people.
We can see, for example, two very different perspectives in the ongoing conflict in Israel and the West Bank. From the perspective of many Israeli Jews, their conflict with the Palestinians is an act of defending themselves and their land from those who are hostile to them and want to harm or kill them. From the perspective of many Palestinians, their conflict with Israel is a justified response to the fact that, over the past century, foreigners from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas have come into the land where Palestinians and their ancestors have lived for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, taking their homes and driving them out. Both sides have committed terrible injustices to the other, and both sides are guilty of massacres of innocent people; yet each group tends to see only the horrific things that they and those on their side have suffered, and not the horrific things that those on the other side have suffered as well.
Of course, we don’t have to travel seven thousand miles to find contrasting perspectives like these at work. In fact, we can drive just ten minutes up the street to the Beavercreek Walmart to see the same sort of limited vision at work in response to the tragic killing last month of a young man. Depending when we arrive at the store, we might see a group of protestors demanding that the police officer who fired the fatal shot be arrested and charged with the young man’s death, or we might see another group of protestors defending the local police and the actions that they judged were needed at the time. Neither group seems content to allow an impartial investigation to take place. Each has already decided the guilt or innocence of the parties involved; and neither appears willing to try looking at the tragic events from the perspective of all those who were there when the shooting took place, trying really to understand how such a terrible thing happened and maybe how to prevent another such tragedy in the future.
Then, of course, we don’t have to look at the experiences either of those in another part of the world or of those nearby to see this phenomenon at work. We all tend to see problems and situations solely from our own perspective, and we don’t always stop — to use the common expression – to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We just know that this was our experience, maybe intensified by some perceived wrong to us or slight to us. And we don’t stop to ask ourselves what the other person or persons involved might have been thinking or experiencing or why they did what they did or said what they said.
It’s not that our perspective is necessarily invalid or that it is not important or that it doesn’t provide a truthful way to look at what has happened around us or to us. It’s just that the truth tends to be multidimensional. It tends to be far wider, far greater, than just our way of looking at it.
There is an old Jewish line that asks: “What do you get when you have two rabbis together?” The answer is “at least three different opinions about any subject.” We find that principle at work many times in the stories found in the bible, and in the later writings of the rabbis. When, for example, the person who put the book of Genesis together looked at the two great stories of creation – each of which differs greatly from the other one – he or she didn’t ask, “Which one is correct?” Instead, this unknown editor looked at both of them and recognized that each has important things to say about God, about us, and about all of creation; and so he or she included them both.
Perhaps we can learn from that ancient practice. Perhaps we can learn that no single perspective, not even our own, is the only valid or important one; but rather, like the unknown rabbi who envisioned the Exodus from the perspective of the Egyptians and of the God who loves all people, we can mentally and emotionally enter into other people’s experiences and try to see things from their perspective. And, in allowing others to open our eyes and expand our views, we might just find that our own experience of life and of God’s truth – the ultimate truth – is enriched and expanded and sanctified.