Exodus 1:8-14, 22; Matthew 10:34-11:1
In Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, the garment of the Ghost of Christmas Present conceals two pathetic specters that appear as children. Of them, the ghost tells Scrooge: This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both … but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
As the book of Exodus opens, we see how ignorance and want conspire to doom the people of Israel. As for ignorance, the new Pharaoh knew nothing of Joseph, the immigrant Hebrew whose foresight kept the Egyptians from starving during the great famine that swept through the land years before. As for want, Pharaoh wanted for his people two qualities he thought they lacked; the strength and resilience he saw in the Hebrews.
Pharaoh’s fear, based on ignorance of the Hebrews’ integrity and goodwill, and his want, based on his distrust of their prosperity, meant doom for the Hebrew family. Pharaoh believed that the way to destroy Hebrew society and at the same time assimilate their qualities was to re-define their families; whence his plan to drown the infant males. No baby boys, no husbands of the future; the Hebrew girls would grow up without prospects except in Egyptian households.
Even though the Pharaohs were long gone when the gospels were written, St. Matthew demonstrates that ignorance and want continued to plague Israel. Generally, the people expected a Messiah to establish peace as the world understood it: at the point of a sword. Moreover, they wanted the power and sovereignty to which they as the oppressed yet chosen people felt entitled.
But if we’ve learned anything about God, it’s that he takes our plans no matter how crooked and writes the straight lines of salvation. Pharaoh looked at the water of the Nile and saw the death of the Hebrew people; God looked at the same water and saw Moses who, as the chosen instrument of God, would bring Israel out of Egypt through a parted sea, deliver the law, and lead the people to the edge of the Promised Land.
Then in the gospel, where the disciples looked at Jesus and in their ignorance saw a Messiah who would restore the sovereignty they wanted, the Father saw the Word who would restore the righteousness they needed. Where they wanted a sword to strike human oppression, Christ brought the sword that struck the human heart, separating love of God from love of neighbor, even the love within a family. This is why he could say that anyone who loved family more than they loved him was not worthy to follow him. He wanted the commandments written on their hearts, but not ignorant of the fact that they came on two tablets; the first concerning love of God, the second, love of neighbor.
Like Dickens’ specters, ignorance and want still haunt us today. Modern culture has forgotten God, and this ignorance moves it to see family, life and love as things that can re-defined. Our scriptures today remind us that no Pharaoh, no judge, no culture can re-define what they could never define to begin with. And where our society wants us to believe that we are lost until we find ourselves, let us remember that Scripture teaches us exactly the opposite; we are found when we lose ourselves for the sake of Christ.