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 New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
America is a great Nation with a great heart. It has served as a destination point for all kinds of people from all kinds of places. During the colonial era most migrants came here from Northern European Countries. However the number declined in 1770s, and then again picked back up in 1840s. While those who came to this wonderful land of new life and opportunities worked hard and settled down here, their children and grandchildren became pillars of American Society. There are lots of German, Irish, English, Scottish people here among us and then the trend changed. Flow of people increased from 200,000 in 1830 to 515000 in 1850. And now, it still continues to grow, and the nations that they come from, including me is far more than the four or six countries of Europe.
Recent trend is similar. People flock to the shores of this land just like it happened in 1700s and 1800 and 1900. Each century brought a different group of people to a land of opportunity, may be for jobs, for security and sometimes not for the best of intentions. We became a land of opportunity and a land of prosperity. At every age we enjoyed and still continue to enjoy the benefit of their hard work.
Ours is a biblical story. This is the story of the people of Israel. This is what we heard in the first reading. Joseph reached the land of Egypt before his brothers and family got there. He established himself and found room for his family to be with him. Famine and poverty lead the people of Israel to the land of Egypt, the old country of power and wealth.
However Egyptians became lazy as they refused to do the everyday jobs of life and eventually lost the grace and wealth. The story of Egypt is continuing. The famine, the fear and the wrath of God that invaded the land of Egypt did not bring enough sense to them to understand the people of God.
There were people who flocked to its shores for security and life. Those who were supposed to give them life, the midwives, were instructed to kill them. But the good news is that they had more sense than the kings and rulers and politicians of the time. Shiphrah and Puah disobeyed the rulers to advance the cause of life and liberty. They listened to the voice of God, the voice of life within them. Civil disobedience became a Biblical gesture to advance life.
Why did Pharoh order them to kill the innocent? Because the people of Israel had grown in numbers. Egyptians pride was greater than common sense and hard work. Israelites worked hard in their farms, in their factories, and in their kitchens.
This was the plight of the people, who came here long ago and today. They worked in farms, factories and kitchens of those with more money and power. I am talking about our great grandparents and it will be the story of our great grandchildren who are and will be the pillars of this society. .
It is not hard to beef up nationalism and forget humanity when we do not know the history. It is easy to speak of justice when it is for ourselves and not for others. People become a threat when we forget we are the beneficiaries of their hard labor as our forefathers were.
Human plight continues even today. The story of the people of Israel continues in our midst today. We have the choice to become the Pharoah who is afraid. Or we have the choice to become the midwives, who refuse to kill human life and opportunities for others. Or we can become the daughter of the king, who chooses to give life to innocent people in the household of the king himself.
Let us not accept our dog’s admiration of us as conclusive evidence that we are wonderful. We are only wonderful because we stand for life and liberty. We become a nation of greatness because we “keep in mind that the true measure of an individual is how we treat a person who can do us absolutely no good”.
None of us need to be cows to know what milk is. None of us need to be powerless to know the pain of those who seek our kindness. We know it already, unlike the cows, from our own history and our own family heritage.
So my dear brothers and sisters, Who are the people of Israel in our midst today?
© Fr. Jos Tharakan