How do we as Americans feel about the story of the Exodus?
In my years of being a Christian, it is my experience that when we approach the story of Exodus, our interpretations of that all important Biblical story fall usually along the lines of either it being a foreshadow of what Jesus did (which it is) or some sort of spiritual metaphor for being delivered from our present day circumstances (which it also is).
I am currently camped in my Old Testament reading and was reflecting on the way that Israel was commanded to celebrate the Exodus.
For them, remembering and celebrating the Passover was as real to them as the way Americans celebrate Independence Day. To them, it was a time where they were delivered from real oppression, slavery, and bondage to serve the idols a foreign nation worshiped.
We as Americans don’t engage the Exodus texts with that perspective in mind because it isn’t our current circumstance. Then one morning, a startling truth started to hit me:
Perhaps as Americans we have more in common with Egypt the oppressor than Israel the oppressed.
It is in both our factual history of being enslavers of others as well as our common present-day practice of being dominators of the world. It is in our common practice, like Egypt, to have a culture of materialism and endless work that requires cheap labor in order to get ahead. There aren’t people in our country going out gathering their own straw for bricks, but there are slave-like labor in overseas factories working endlessly for pennies to build the pyramids that supply our consumerism.
Having understood this, can I propose we change the way we as Americans preach about the narrative of Exodus?
Can I propose that when we preach about Exodus, we should, instead of just spiritualizing ourselves as victims in need of deliverance (which, as stated before, is still appropriate), but rather calling our nation and its constituents to self-assessment and repentance? Can I propose that we should use this text to expose the god of consumerism and money that drive the worship of our businesses and governments in a way that tramples on the peoples of the earth as well as the very earth we live in?
Can we also be reminded of the outcome of that story? Egypt became God’s enemy. And he made the deliverance of Israel not just about a people who he loved, but he made the fight against Egypt personal, causing plagues to rain over Egypt in a way that reminded them of their own gods.
If comparing apples to apples, we should be alarmed concerning the fate of Egypt. Very possibly, God Almighty may also look down at our pride, our perpetual subjugation of others, our rabid consumerism which necessitates slave-like labor, and deliver the oppressed under us while we ourselves falter.
We as Christians should speak on behalf of the oppressed, the weak, the widow, the fatherless. Yet in order to do that, it is with humility that we need to be reminded that the Exodus story chronicled the fate of the nation where we are the cause of much of that injustice.
And so it necessitates a different perspective of scripture that doesn’t bandaid the sins of a nation by overly personalizing and spiritualizing our need for deliverance, but rather get to the core of the issue and, like John the Baptist, call an empire and its constituents to repentance.
Who among the privileged in our nation will have the bravery to speak a bold and uncomfortable truth? I pray, for the sake, of our nation, we would.
Lord, have mercy on our nation. And have mercy on the Church in our nation which stands idle preferring perspectives on biblical narratives which blind us from seeing that we are more at fault than we are victims. Help us to see the plank in our own eye and with humility seek for the justice of the oppressed, the immigrant, and the “other”.