Have you noticed lately that you can’t turn on the TV without seeing someone, somewhere protesting something. Pro Trump, Anti Trump, Black Lives Matter, White supremacists, Neo Nazis, KKK. Protests everywhere. People are standing up for what they believe. Our first reading today is all about protest, all about women standing up for their beliefs.
We start the book of Exodus and boy, it’s a creepy start. There is a new king in Egypt and he is worried about the Hebrews, the Jews. There are too many of them, they look different, they have different customs. He is hearing too much Hebrew being spoken in the marketplace when he just wants to hear strong, pure Egyptian being spoken. So he does what too many rulers do: he makes the Jews into scapegoats to blame for whatever is going wrong in Egypt. 3000 years later, the leader is named Hitler and he, like this ancient Pharaoh, also decides to get rid of the Jews.
So the Pharaoh oppresses the Jews with horrible forced labor. But the more they are oppressed, the more they multiply. The Egyptians make their lives bitter with hard service and all kinds of field labor. Still they flourish, still they persist. The Pharaoh decides to take a drastic measure.
He calls two Hebrew midwives to him; Shiphrah and Puah; (whose names, BTW, mean “beautiful” and “splendid”). He orders these midwives to kill any baby boy born to a Hebrew woman, but let the baby girls live. Clearly, this Pharaoh doesn’t understand how powerful girls can be! Mary pointed out at bible study that he is also killing off his future work force. Not too smart!
Pharaoh misses one key fact: Shiphrah and Puah are Jews who fear God, not some earthly king. I can see them saying to the Pharaoh; “Hmph! You’re not the boss of me!” Their God is a God of life, not a God of death. So of course, they are not going to be killing any newborn babies. These powerless women stand up to power in their quiet way. Sometimes, to follow God you have to stand up.
Now, listen to how clever they are: Later, when the Pharaoh wants to know why they aren’t following his orders and killing newborn boys, they make up a lie: “We can’t get there in time! These Hebrew women are not like other woman. They are vigorous, and the babies come out too quickly.” Go Puah! Go Shiprah!
Unfortunately, the Pharaoh ups the ante. He commands that all Egyptians are to find boys born to the Hebrews and drown them in the Nile river. Now we zoom in closer and learn about a Levite woman, a Jew, who has a baby boy. In her act of protest, she hides him as best as she can but after three months, filled with despair and the worst pain imaginable, she sets him in a basket to float down the river. Her daughter, Miriam stands by and quietly hides in the reeds, watching and following the basket with her baby brother.
Now, here’s a great twist. Who finds the basket and rescues the Jewish baby boy? The Pharaoh’s very own daughter immediately identifies the baby as Jewish and takes him into her arms. She is openly defying her father’s order to kill all Hebrew boys. Hers’ is an incredible act of protest. She saves this baby who will be called Moses and who will eventually set free all of the Hebrews from the Pharaoh.
Here comes another girl now. Moses’ sister, Miriam, bravely steps into the picture. She convinces the Pharaoh’s daughter to let a woman she knows nurse the baby for a couple more years. Thus, Moses’ mother gets paid to nurse her own baby. Clever bit of protest. Eventually, the Pharaoh’s daughter will take Moses back and raise this Hebrew boy right under her father’s nose!
We’ve got five women here: Shiphrah, Puah, Moses’ mother and his sister and finally, the daughter of the Pharaoh. Behind the scenes, with quiet defiance and protest, they each act to change the world. Through their actions, Moses will live and go on to free the Israelites from oppression, leading them through the Red Sea to freedom. His life was dependent on protesting women who dared to put love and compassion in front of their fear.
Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. Those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” These women each did small acts of civil disobedience. One individual can begin a rippling movement that turns the tide of history.
When I was a young girl in high school, I had a teacher who was a bigot. One day in social studies, he referred to the Vietnamese as “gooks”. In the middle of his rant, I finally stood up, shaking and red faced, and gathered my books to leave. He asked what I was doing and I told him that he was offending my religion … “and I’m an atheist.” I then told the principal that Mr. Atkinson was teaching prejudice. That was the last year he taught at Holtville High School. I hope after I stood up for my principles, Mr. Atkinson learned to think twice about marginalizing whole races and teaching his bigotry to young people.
These women in our story today listened when their hearts told them to be brave and stand up to an unjust, tyrannical leader. Benjamin Franklin writes: Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” A survivor of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel writes: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Today St. Marks stands up for what’s right when we deliver a delicious, hearty meal to some needy folks in Aberdeen. Bonnie and Mary will be there, and most of us have helped prepare the food. We are serving the poor. I think this is an act of resistance in the face of so many on the Harbor who just wish those homeless people would go away. We stand with the needy, we stand with the poor. We do so because our God tells us to do so.
What is in the hearts of the protestors we see everywhere? Are they for compassion or hatred? Do they want to help the downtrodden or just make them go away?
We must stand up for what’s right. We must stand up for God.