Monday, February 4, 2019

Keep Your Friends Close

By the time Exodus rolls around, Egypt has seen so much change in its leadership that no one in power even remembers Joseph, the faithful Israelite servant who saved the entire nation during a period of famine. At this point, all anyone sees is the Israelites, who have grown to be a large and formidable people living on the outskirts of Egypt. 

If you read carefully what Exodus has to say about how the Israelites came to be slaves to the Egyptians, rather than neighbors and semi-brothers, it's actually quite interesting. Most people groups who become slaves do so out of domination. They do so because their enemies are more powerful than them and are afraid of them, so they become subjects before they have a chance to become rivals. 

But that's not quite Israel's story. At least, not at the beginning. 

The original consideration when it came to Israel was not actually Israel at all; it was other nations. Egypt turned Israel into a slave nation not because they were immediately afraid of Israel, but because they were afraid of other nations. They had other enemies on the outside who they thought might co-opt Israel as fighting partners, so before their friends could turn on them, Egypt turned on her friends and subjected Israel to heavy, heavy burdens. 

In other words, Israel became Egypt's slaves because Egypt was afraid of other nations. 

I guess that's one way to do it. 

The truth is that this is happening to us all the time. We live in a world that operates by this same principle - get to someone before someone else gets to them. Amass for yourself friends wherever you think you may need them. Do so by force if necessary. 

And so we're living in a world that will put a heavy burden on you for reasons that have nothing at all to do with you, and all because it's so easy for them to forget - and quickly - that you're supposed to be friends. They forget that you're the one who has always had their back. They forget that they can trust you because, in that moment, they don't think they can trust someone else. 

We are a people who are easily betrayed by those who believe they are being betrayed. And they often don't even see it. 

We are a people who are used by those we love, for no other reason than that they all of a sudden find themselves potentially being used by someone else. 

Maybe, then, we start to think we're dangerous people. We're people who ought to be dominated and domineered because that's the best way to deal with us. Others see the example, particularly in the world, and they think this must be the best possible way to relate to the church, and then we, who live inside the church (or the church lives in us) think there must truly be something devious about the church that it must be controlled in this way. 

And we convince ourselves we're radicals, which satisfies something in our souls about what our faith requires of us, but let's be honest - we're no such thing. We're a people who were too easily convinced that we were radicals not because the world was afraid of us, but because the world was afraid of itself and didn't want to take any chances with us. 

We're not radicals. Most of us, anyway. The church is nowhere near as radical today as she is called to be, nowhere near as subversive. Quite frankly, we're not as dangerous as the world tries to convince us that we are, but they've done a good job of convincing us, haven't they? It's because they don't really want us to be, so they've subdued us and put such heavy burdens on our neighboring that it seems like we must be doing something right. Even if we've still got so much wrong. 

Like Israel, we are coming to a time where we have to rise up. Where we, the church, have to become everything the world fears that we are. Where we have to be the radicals they want us to think we already are, though we're not, and set free our people to worship, to love, to serve in the world. Where we have to break the chains of subjection and be the people of God. Maybe Egypt drives us to it. 

Or maybe, just maybe, we were called all along. 

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