For Sabbath, October 1, 2016
Exodus 2:15-21 Let’s begin the scripture reading with the second word of the second sentence, “Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian. When Moses arrived in Midian, he sat down beside a well. . . .”
It would make a perfect romantic movie, a chick-flick I think they call it. Right up there with the Princess Bride. The adopted grandson of a wicked king strikes a blow for his enslaved native people. He kills a wicked, abusive supervisor. Then he has to run for his life.
He ends up in the remote wilderness of the Sinai peninsula. Afraid. Alone. But alive.
This particular afternoon, weeks into his fugitive existence, he is sitting in the shade at a well. A group of young women bring their sheep to the well to water them. They have filled the troughs and the first batch of sheep is just beginning to drink when other shepherds arrive. A bunch of guys. They rush toward the girls’ sheep waving their arms and shouting. The sheep scatter and the girls go after them. The guys laugh and jeer. “Thank you for filling the troughs little girls. That was very kind of you.” The language went down hill from there. The girls gathered their sheep at a safe distance from the jerks.
The stranger gets to his feet, pulls a sword and marches toward the guys. His eyes flash fire. His body screams threat and indignation. “Get your sheep out of here or I’ll turn them into lamb chops and when I’m finished with them I’ll turn you into worm food. Move.”
The guys are astonished then terrified. They had no idea who the stranger was, but everything about him said warrior, commander, boss. And his sword did not look like a toy.
They moved their sheep away. Not far enough. Moses drove them far from the well. Then he turned and beckoned the girls. They came shyly bringing their sheep. Moses grabbed the rope and hoisted bucket after bucket of water from the well as effortlessly as if it were a teacup. The girls didn’t know what to think. Who was this stranger, this handsome stranger, this commander?
Their sheep watered they moved off toward home, chattering all the way with amazement.
At home their father wanted to know why they were home so early.
“Well, there was this guy. He chased away the other shepherds and filled the troughs until all our sheep were done.”
“What?” their dad exclaimed. “A stranger protected you and watered your sheep and you left him sitting by himself at the well? Go find him. Bring him home for dinner.”
The girls were only too happy to comply.
Moses came to dinner.
And stayed the night.
And accepted a job.
And married Zipporah, Dad’s oldest daughter.
And they lived happily ever after.
Well, not completely ever after. There was that time when Moses’ brother and sister’s family wanted to get rid of the black woman. It’s not clear if they were opposed to Zipporah because she was black or they figured they could use her blackness to incite other people to be sympathetic to their allegations.
But it didn’t work. Moses obeyed the expanded version of Genesis command. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and brothers and sisters and be one with his wife. Moses and Zipporah began their romance with a fairy-tale meeting and preserved their union through all the drama of Moses life.
Romance seems to be part of the very essence of being human. Whether it’s Hollywood or Bollywood or Shakespeare or Homer or the modern Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, every human story involves romance, our consuming guiding hunger for love and connection. As we watch or read these stories our own hearts are captured. We find ourselves holding our breath hoping they make it, hoping again for the triumph of love.
In the Bible this theme of romance is linked directly with God. Our hunger for magical union—AND ENDURING UNION—is presented as a mirror of the hunger of God. God is a lover, a persistent, hopeful, we could even say, stubborn lover.
It is against this backdrop that we make the best sense of the command, “Don’t commit adultery.” When we link our hearts and lives and bodies in romance, violation of that trust, turning our attention to someone else always rips and tears at the very fabric of our being. I remember reading the comments of a secular counselor. She was responding to a question about whether an affair is ever justified. Her answer: First, I tell clients who ask me this question, ‘you must recognize that someone is going to get hurt. Always. Inescapably.
It is a law of humanity. Hence the commandment: Don’t hurt each other. More than that, be stubborn in faithfulness.
Be faithful so you don’t hurt each other.
And more, be faithful, because that is the way of God and you are God’s children.
Because we are Christians we look especially to Jesus as the clearest exhibit of what God is like. With this idea of romance—and enduring faithfulness as the sweetest, truest flower of romance—let’s turn our attention to the last supper.
Jesus had gathered a family, a whole gang of lovers. The intense relationship among these men reminds me of what I have read of the bonding of the members of a military unit who have braved combat together or among miners who have spent years watching out for each other in the dark shafts of coal mines or police who have shared risk and service together. They have become family. They have become one unit, one group, a unique intensity of union.
Over three years of intense ministry, constant service, occasional threat, frequent opposition and challenge Jesus and his twelve friends had become one. Jesus knows he has reached the end. He is going to die. So he plans a special meal.
That evening at the table he makes a speech.
“With great desire I have anticipated this dinner. Take this wine and share it among you, knowing that it symbolizes my blood. My ministry, indeed my very life, finds meaning in the family gathered here at the table. I will die before I let you go. I live in you. Drink, all of you. Even you, Judas. Drink.”
Faithful. Jesus was faithful. And when we take the bread and drink the fruit of the vine, we are receiving that faithfulness. We are saying, Thank you. Yes. Yes.
And we are pledging ourselves to carry forward the romance of Jesus. We will do all that we can to extend the love of God to all. We will die before we will kill. We will give before we allow someone to be driven to theft by their need.
And will join Moses in protecting the vulnerable who would be driven from the well by coarse, bullying rowdies.
Today, at this table, let’s take fresh resolve, fresh inspiration to join in the romance of God.