How Free Do You Feel?

August 23, 2019


In this Sunday's Gospel passage, Jesus chooses to prioritize  an "act of mercy" (helping someone in need) above "following the rules" (adhering, to an idolatrous level, to religious regulations regarding what may and may not be done on the Sabbath).


As I'll be unpacking in my sermon on Sunday, Jesus' decision reminds me of the two different stories offered by two different rabbis at the beginning of a Seder dinner.

The first rabbi argues that what was central to the Exodus story was literal (socio-economic) slavery, and the literal liberation of Jews from slavery in Egypt. And therefore, he argues, the way the Passover should begin is with the words, "our ancestors were SLAVES under Pharaoh."  


The people were slaves, literally: unpaid, slave labor: in chains...no freedom of association, under cruel and demanding slave-drivers, taskmasters.


What is important, therefore, is the message that 'with a strong hand God delivered them out of that slavery into freedom." That they, as slaves, literally escaped their oppressors, crossed the Red Sea, and when their oppressors chased them, God caused the sea to close in on them and they were drowned -- and it was at that point they were free, free at last. And so they should begin by remembering their ancestors were slaves under Pharaoh.


The other Rabbi disagreed.


He argued that the central and most important point of the Exodus story is not liberation from economic or literal slavery, but liberation from slavery to anyone or anything other than God. And so the Passover Seder should begin, "our ancestors were IDOLATORS."


He argued, essentially, that you can take the slave out of Egypt, but that doesn't guarantee you'll take "Egypt" out of the slave..."Egypt" being the deeply ingrained human habit of turning to someone or something other than God for our source of freedom, meaning, and joy.


What's important, therefore, is to remember the stories of the Jewish people in the desert, after they've crossed the Red Sea. They were, in a literal sense free. But you find an unhappy, discontented, rebellious people: "If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost-also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now [all we have] is this  manna!"


The point of that second account is that the people Israel were not free just because they escaped literal slavery. They were not free until they received the law and are only free when they remember that idolatry in any form leads to slavery.


As we'll explore more on Sunday, then, idolatry is putting anyone -- any political figure, any religious leader, one's self, any friend or family member (even a spouse or child) -- at the center of our heart and life, and in so doing displace God. And idolatry is putting anything -- even good and God-given things like food, work, safety/security, a good cause, acquiring wealth or comfort, or religious practices (even Sabbath rest) -- at the center of our heart and life, and in so doing displace God.


Oh, how we -- so prone to idolatry -- all need to be reminded of that.


See you Sunday,

John

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