fear versus compassion – Genesis 1:8-2:10

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Exodus / Lectionary / Old Testament
Jain Meeting Hall Detail

Architectural ensemble from a Jain meeting hall from 17th century India. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Rick Morley.

The following is a reflection on Genesis 1:8-2:10, the Old Testament lesson for August 21, 2011, according to the Revised Common Lectionary. On this site there is also a reflection on the Gospel lesson of the day.

The opening of the Book of Exodus is a primer on two ways of living: reacting out of fear, and acting out of compassion.

Throughout the conflict with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, it’s fear and hard-heartedness which drives the narrative. Interestingly, when the children of Israel make it to the other side of the Sea with their freedom they take the fear and hard-heartedness with them…but we’ll get to that in a few weeks…

It’s an interesting shift from the Patriarchal Narratives in Genesis where jealousy and covetousness seems to overshadow the primal motivation of fear. (Not that fear was absent, mind you.)

Pharaoh fears how great Israel is becoming, and in reaction to that fear he 1) orders their workload increased, and 2) orders their male children slaughtered.

It’s the women who confound that fear with compassion. They refuse, at least at first, to kill the Israelite children, and Pharaoh’s own daughter draws little Moses out of the waters and brings him into her house that he might live.

This may be a story from 3,500 years ago…but it’s also a familiar narrative. Look around at the carnage that lays in fear’s wake. It’s fear that brings buildings down, brings wars about, and which seems to dominate legislative processes. One word about employment statistics or credit ratings sends investors fleeing, and sends economies reeling.

But, then turn off the TV, and close the laptop…and look at the ways that fear dominates our personal daily lives. How much of our energy goes into protecting, insuring, and risk-managing? How often does fear dictate our parenting, our time-management, and even our ministries?

A little fear can be healthy. I don’t let my little children swim in the surf unattended because I fear what might happen. That’s good. I’m going to keep that one.

But, when fear drives our narrative, and becomes the steam-engine of all our reactions and decision making, it stops being healthy. It becomes consuming. It consumes us. And, often, like the children of Israel, it consumes others.

The daughter of Pharaoh shows us a more excellent way. She could have feared this child of another race. She could have feared her father’s reaction had he found out he had a fugitive in the house.

But, her narrative wasn’t dominated by fear, but rather compassion. She chose compassion. She cast off fear.

Likewise, may we draw compassion out of the waters, that all God’s children may live.

The Author

follower of Jesus, father of two, husband of one, Episcopal priest, with one book down, one blog up...surrounded by empty jars of nutella