Today’s reading: Exodus 12-19, Psalm 9
Our reading begins today with the story that tells the origin of the Jewish celebration of Passover. The story has a disturbing component to it–one which challenges our picture of who God is. If God is all-loving, merciful, and gracious, how are we to interpret the killing of every firstborn child of Egypt?
This is a good place in our journey to pause and talk a little more about how we read Scripture. One model that I have found particularly helpful is the one offered by John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley recognized that a number of factors have an influence on both the writing and reading of Scripture. He suggested that we can better discern, understand, and value its message if we allow reason, experience, and tradition to inform us. So, when we encounter passages that jolt, confuse, or trouble us, it is right for us to ask questions of the text and to probe a little deeper.
The pages of Scripture were not composed in a vacuum. Each contributor wrote within a particular context, often building upon storytelling traditions that existed long before they were put down on papyrus, some for even hundreds of years. These traditions were more concerned with communicating a story of faith than a record of history. Culturally, in a world where kings and tribal leaders were given god-like status, it was necessary to assert that the God of Israel was more powerful than Pharaoh. So, the story of Exodus was carefully crafted over time to acknowledge God as the one who is clearly in charge of the events.
In the remembrance of Passover, Jews do not celebrate the killing of Egypt’s children. They celebrate freedom that is attributed to God’s activity on their behalf. It was on the night of Passover that Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples and told them what was about to happen. It was not his enemies that would be killed. Rather, he would die himself so that the whole world might be free. It is in this activity on behalf of all people that we see the true character of God.