Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Losing sight of Jethro's sheep: Moses in Midian

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 17 - Year A
Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was doing his best to lose the Egyptian accent that people had remarked on when he first landed in Midian (Exodus 2:18-19).

It was an accent worth losing.  First, it was a lie: he wasn’t Egyptian.  He’d been a Hebrew child raised like a dirty secret in the heart of the Egyptian court.  Second, it provided a clue to his past misdeeds.  The child became a man back in Egypt.  His identity crisis sharpened and caused him to snap.  He’d killed an Egyptian overseer who was beating a Hebrew slave and thus became a fugitive from Egyptian justice. 

But Moses dodged the murder charge.   He walked the width of the desert and crossed the border into Midian.  He married the daughter of a prominent local family and began to work on his pension.   

Did he have nightmares?  Did the ghosts of Egypt haunt his sleep?  There’s no evidence of this.  This Sunday’s reading show Moses following the flocks as he would have done seasonally - a perfectly ordinary Midianite shepherd on a perfectly regular day with only the barest trace of an accent.  Everything is on track.

The recipe for what Moses needed to do next is exactly what every new parolee needs to do upon his release from prison.  He needs to keep his eyes forward and to follow the path and to seize the opportunity at hand.  When you’re given a fresh start and limited time, you stick to the straight and narrow.  It’s the same at the tail-end of the world’s worst divorce or a personal bankruptcy or a war or a natural disaster.   One foot goes in front of the other.   Direct those fat sheep to market down the straight path. That’s all.  Nothing else.

But that's not how our story ends, is it?  Moses’ eyes stray.  The commissioning of Moses and the whole story of the Exodus doesn’t begin with God’s words from the burning bush.  It begins a few lines earlier when Moses, still comfortably at the tail end of Jethro’s flocks and with everything to gain by staying the course, says to himself:

"I must turn aside and look at this great sight, 
and see why the bush is not burned up."


Curiosity may kill the cat and displease the parole officer but it also ushers in new epochs in history.  From one cover of your Bible to the other, and throughout the history of the Church, God upsets the settled and recommended paths of prophets, patriarchs, disciples and saints.  Before they were ever useful to God and to his Kingdom by being resolute and unshakable, they proved their worth because they were quite the opposite - capable of being distracted from their day jobs and unstuck from all their several necessary trajectories.  

God could depend on them to shift their gaze from their desks and direct it out the window.