Old Testament: Exodus (1:1-2:10)
These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. .But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”
The Response: Psalm 124
1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;
2 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the Lord! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
The Epistle: Romans (12:1-8)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
The Gospel: Matthew (16:13-20)
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Today, the Diocese of Southern Ohio begins its “Big Read” project, inviting everyone to read, study, and reflect on the book of Exodus and its significance for our life as a church and for our lives as individuals. The reason that we are starting today is that today we began a series of readings from the book of Exodus in our Sunday liturgy; that series will continue for a total of nine Sundays.
Bishop Tom Breidenthal’s call to us to participate in this initiative was published in many different places, including in the summer issue of our quarterly parish newsletter, The Lion’s Tale. Our fall issue, which is available today, includes my opening reflections on why Exodus is central to our lives as Christians. As a supplement, a special insert in today’s service bulletin offers some suggestions for your reading.
In keeping with ancient Semitic practice, the book that we call “Exodus” is known in Hebrew from one of its opening words, “Shmot” or “Names”: “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came into Egypt with Jacob, each with his household.”
Names are important; they are a key part of our identity. People throughout history have tried to find ways to ensure that their names would be remembered, long after they themselves had died.
Since the Exodus project includes study as well as reflection, let me ask you a couple of questions about names as they pertain to today’s first reading. Don’t worry; this can be an “open-book” or “open-service-bulletin” test. In the passage from Exodus that we heard this morning, what are the names of the two midwives? “Shiphrah” and “Puah” — OK, good. Now, historians have tried to identify the Pharaoh of the exodus; but, looking only at today’s reading, what was his name? It’s never mentioned, is it?
Isn’t that ironic? The name of the great and powerful king of Egypt, who insisted that his name be remembered by all generations to come, has been forgotten. Yet, after more than 3000 years, the names of two, ordinary, midwives are still remembered. In fact, they are still being spoken this morning as part of the Exodus reading in countless churches throughout the world.
So, who were ultimately the most important people in Egypt at that time? Whose actions set in motion the events that continue to be remembered and celebrated by countless millions of people today? It is not the supposedly all-powerful ruler, with his pride and self-centered arrogance, but two seemingly ordinary women who courageously refused to follow his order and who instead did their work without fanfare but remained true to their conscience. They turned out to be the ones who had the greatest effect on the events of history that were to unfold. In a sense, it is with the two of them that the timeless story of the exodus begins.
Sometimes, we look at all the needs in the world around us and feel overwhelmed and frustrated. We feel so small, like there is nothing we can do, like there is no way that we can make a real difference. But the example given to us by Shiphrah and Puah contradicts that sense of helplessness. It reminds us of how critically important our seemingly small contributions can be. It reminds us of the vital role that we can play in the lives of those around us by using whatever abilities God has given us, no matter what they are. It reminds us that God has called us by name in order to defy the forces of death and suffering in people’s lives and to reaffirm and work for God’s gift of the fullness of life for all people.
But one key to our success in contributing to this great work is realizing that we are never in it alone. But then, neither were Shiphrah and Puah. They were part of a group of five brave women who rejected the edict of Pharaoh What’s-His-Name. It was the determination of these two midwives along with Moses’ mother, Jochebed, his sister, Miriam, and the unnamed daughter of Pharaoh, all of whom dared to defy the ruler’s edict of death and who instead gave life to one child: a child through whom God would one day set the people free.
We are never in this work alone either. As St. Paul reminds us in our second reading (Rm 12:5): “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” Each of us has, not only a single gift, but a unique combination of gifts. And if we are willing to use them to do the work that God has given us to do and to make a positive difference in people’s lives, we allow God to accomplish great things through that one body: things that we could not possibly have accomplished on our own.
Doing that, taking our part in the one body, requires us to accept and be who we are, coming to appreciate the value of whatever gifts God has given us, and finding ways to use them to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Shiphrah and Puah would probably have failed miserably if they had tried to lead the Hebrew slaves out Egypt. That was not who they were. Instead, they used the knowledge and the skills that they had in order to make what turned out to be a vital contribution to the people’s deliverance.
In the same way, it does no good for us to try to be people who we are not. Instead, we need to recognize the unique gift that each and every one of us is, in and for the world. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has put it (Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, page 139), “Peace comes when we see our reflection in the face of God and let go of the desire to be someone else.”
Shiphrah and Puah were not Moses. The recipients of the Letter to the Romans were not Paul. The disciples, who appear in our gospel reading, were not Jesus. But then, God didn’t need them to be. God already had one of each.
What God did need them to be were people who used whatever seemingly small talents that they had in order to touch people’s lives in a positive way and to make the world a better place for everyone to live. That is exactly what God needs us to do as well.