Wednesday, February 5, 2014 – Week of 4 Epiphany, Year Two
[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)
This morning’s second reading adds another entry to the long catalogue of folks who lived by faith. Most of the passage focuses on Moses, who was raised in the Pharaoh’s household although he was a Hebrew by birth. Then, when Moses was all grown up, he “refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.” Moses had access to all sorts of pleasures and privileges that he decided to pass up.
Moses chose solidarity with oppressed people instead of aligning himself with the powerful. This choice follows the pattern that Christ himself embodied in the beautiful hymn from Philippians: “though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave . . . [and] he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (2:6-8). Like Moses, Christ left the powerful home of his Father to suffer as one of God’s people.
Is it possible for us also to abandon our privileges? In our society of complex pecking orders and power struggles, giving up our privileges is no simple matter. Even if people gave up obvious privileges, such as money and positions of formal authority, they might still be left with privileges that are harder to recognize, such as access to a social network, the ability to speak fluent and persuasive English, knowledge of how to navigate banks and bureaucracies, and a sense of worth that comes from having been treated respectfully because of one’s race or class status.
Though we give away some privileges and turn down others, we cannot duplicate for ourselves the instability and insecurity that come from lacking access to education, nutrition, employment, dominant languages, and middle- or upper-class social norms. Moses may have given up a lot in order to take the side of other people, but surely he bore some marks of privilege. In fact, Moses’ own people feared him even when he tried to help them by killing one of their task masters. The Hebrews still perceived Moses not as one of them, but as a “ruler and judge” (Exodus 2:14).
In our own quest to be agents of God’s justice and compassion, we may all come up against the limits of how much privilege we can ever give up. Even Jesus was born as a male and as a cultural insider—a person who needed the Syrophoenician woman to point out the privileges he had (Mark 7:25-30).
The pattern of life that Moses and Christ embraced was not simply a life of forgoing all privileges, which would be impossible. Rather, they chose to enter a world marred by the original sin of unequal resources, opportunities, and dignity for all of God’s children. They made themselves vulnerable by leaving behind some degree of security and power, but also by having their own assumptions and privileges pointed out to them by others.
It can be painful and embarrassing when people bring to light the privileges and advantages that were previously invisible to us. But today, perhaps we can all take one more step to leave behind privileges such as security and self-protection that have coddled us in some way. We take this step on a path well-worn by Moses, by Christ himself, and by so many others whose lives were shaped by faith.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.