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Bible Study: Proper 18 (A) – 2023
September 10, 2023
Social justice. If one were to place the Book of Exodus into a literary category, the category of social justice might fit. In fact, the Bible in its entirety might well fit into that category. Social justice literature explores social issues, their histories, their impacts, and their resolutions, both possible and realized.
This reading from Exodus is widely recognized as the institution of the Passover feast, a ritual that honors the liberation of the Israelites from slavery. It is celebrated annually, but its meaning and purpose root it deeply into everyday life—not just for the ancient Israelites, but for contemporary readers, as well. This excerpt from Exodus can be seen as disaster preparedness for salvation. A religious “go-bag” for any earthly exodus. Inside this go-bagare essentials for survival and sustenance: the blood of an unblemished sacrificial lamb (one innocent sacrificed for many), unleavened bread (indicative of the focus on urgency), and bitter herbs (representing the bitter taste of bondage). The flesh of the lamb is to be roasted over a fire, symbolically enduring the flames of iniquity, and consumed with haste by mouth or flame. None is to be left by morning. Participants are to engage in this ritual fully dressed and ready to go—loins girded, shoes on, staff in hand.
This go–bag concept can readily be illustrated through a contemporary disaster for which one must be prepared to quickly exit at a moment’s notice—wildfires. And it can be applied to contemporary social justice issues like poverty, racism, and prejudice:
- The alarm sounds (The Lord speaks to Moses; FEMA issues an evacuation notice; NIH illuminates the impacts of structural racism on food and housing insecurity)
- The people grab their go-bags (Passover ritual; Disaster Preparedness Kits; social action agendas)
- They follow a prescribed route to safety (out of Egypt; out of the fire zone; out of injustice).
The people are freed from the bondage of disaster, and the journey to safety—to salvation—is not an easy one. One is not likely to survive unscathed. The bitterness of disaster is a stark reminder of the injustices we face as fallible creatures subject to one another’s actions, and the sweet taste of freedom is a hope-filled sign of God’s love for us and God’s desire that we not only survive but thrive.
God desires justice. The Book of Exodus is about social justice—about disaster preparedness—and today’s Passover reading serves as a go-bag for salvation and justice. May we perpetually be present, aware, and prepared to go with God toward liberation and justice.
- Can you think of a social justice issue for which you might prepare a go-bag? What might you place in it?
Living in an area prone to wildfires, one becomes accustomed to having a go–bag packed and ready. At a moment’s notice, a prepared person can grab their go-bag and go, increasing their chances of surviving a wildfire or any number of other disasters. One thing that is good to have in a go-bagis a journal. Journaling is a very useful tool for remembering details, processing emotions, and chronicling experiences.
Thinking back to our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Exodus, and the preparation of go-bags for social justice, the psalms might readily be considered a disaster-preparedness journal, chronicling the good, the not-so-good, and the downright ugly experiences and emotions of the ancient Hebrew people as they navigated their way through the wilderness toward God and toward justice. Psalm 149 is no exception. It is replete with poetic praise, joyful song, and what appears to be vengeful prose. As unsettling as the vengeful language here may seem, perhaps it is simply language used to best express the ancient Hebrews’ recognition of God’s almighty power above all to love and to save—to attain justice. Or perhaps the writers actually felt vengeful.
If we read Psalm 149 as a journal entry amid an anthology of journal entries that authentically illustrate the human struggle through hardships and discernment, we might empathize and even relate to their experiences—their praises and their desire for vengeance. It can be a tough thing to admit to feelings of anger and vengeance when afflicted by woundedness and grief—tough, but very human. The psalmists, like us, were fallible and imperfect. And they were faithful.
- Journaling is an effective method for expressing and processing strong emotions. It can be a healthful and spiritual practice. Can you recall an experience in your life that kindled strong emotions? If you were to write a psalm as though it were a journal entry of that experience, how might you express yourself? How might you tell your story?
It is important to recognize the context within which Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. Paul believed that Christ’s return was imminent and that the time left to embrace Christ as Savior was fleeting. Paul’s mission ahead of Christ’s return was not only to bring as many people as possible to faith in Christ but also to promote Jesus’ singular, most important commandment—a commandment he himself lived by: to love.
St. Augustine once said, “Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.” That is what Paul is conveying in his letter to the Romans. If everything we do is based upon love, then all of God’s commandments will be fulfilled. And when Paul tells the Romans to put on the armor of light, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, he is telling them to be the face of Christ in the world. Live by his example. Love by his example. Paul’s message speaks to us today, as well. Every moment is precious and, while no one knows precisely when Christ will return, time is still fleeting.
- Paul faced tremendous persecution and hardship, yet he allowed love to remain the root of his words and actions. Can you think of a time when you allowed love to be the root of your words and actions, even in the face of opposition?
“Go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the offender refuses to listen… let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.” On the surface, this passage may appear to be dismissive of Gentiles and tax collectors, but in fact, it is not. On the contrary, it is actually a portent for love and forgiveness. To treat an offender like a Gentile or a tax collector is to love them. It is to be the face of Christ in the world and to forgive.
Christ set the ultimate example of love and forgiveness. To love and forgive someone does not mean that there is no pain or anger or sense of loss and disappointment. It does not mean that you condone the offender’s actions, either. It means that you are acknowledging not only the person’s existence as a beloved creature of God but also God’s sole authority as judge—as Savior and Redeemer. You are acknowledging your shared existence as sinners. Forgiveness means you are liberating yourself from the bondage of loathing and resentment. An oft-used metaphor says it best: Forgiveness is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed. May you recognize the sweet fragrance of forgiveness even in the bitterest of pains.
- Wounds can be especially painful when they are inflicted by another member of the church. Can you think of a time when you have been wounded by a fellow Christian? What role did love and forgiveness play in how you processed that pain? Were you able to loose yourself from the bondage of resentment and loathing?
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