Following the lectionary: Passover, Christian ethics, and God’s radical commitment to the marginalised

passover.jpg“Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord…

Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” – Exodus 12.12

Following the lectionary readings in a church is sometime a precarious thing to do. The lectionary is a list of portions of the Bible, appointed to be read at church services. They often throw up difficult and sometimes troubling texts.

Last week was no exception as we read about the story of the Exodus, the liberation of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians. In the lectionary reading we heard about God sweeping through the land of Egypt, exterminating the firstborn of every household, unless of course they marked their homes with the blood of a slain lamb. Weird stuff.

This is a troubling story to say the least. Not least the fact that we read of God murdering children. It is one thing to accept the eradication of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, but to justify the murder of innocent children seems inexcusable.

But it’s important to remember that this story does not commend to us an ethical framework by which to live by. Instead, it is a theological narrative, one which presents God’s absolute commitment to the oppressed and marginalised. It speaks of a God who will stop at nothing to liberate slaves, and promise to them a better future.

This is the God of which Jesus speaks of in the gospels. When Jesus began his ministry in his home town of Nazareth he went to the synagogue and, as was the custom, read from scripture. From all of the wonderful Hebrew texts from which he might read, Jesus picked up the scroll which included a vision from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

This is Jesus’ mission statement. His call to arms. He understood that stories like the Exodus were not simply about Israelite exceptionalism, or God’s divine wrath. Rather, he interpreted these texts to be stories about God’s absolute commitment to the marginalised; the poor, the captives, the disabled, and the oppressed.

During his life he spent his time with “sinners”; tax collectors, prostitutes, foreigners, and the “unclean”. He knew that God was on their side and would stop at nothing to liberate them from oppression.

Whatever our personal beliefs on moral or social issues, Christians are called to follow Jesus on this radical mission. We are compelled to put our personal identity and beliefs aside to always side with the marginalised, perhaps crossing preconceived ethical and moral boundaries along the way.

With this in mind one might envisage Jesus returning today and, attending one of our local churches, reimagine Isaiah’s vision for freedom like this…

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the LGBTQ+ community.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for those
detained on Manus and Nauru
and the closing of the health gap,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

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