The beginning chapters of Exodus tell the story of the Hebrew people under the oppression and enslavement of the Egyptians. The Egyptians ‘worked them ruthlessly, making their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields’ (1:13-14). In the Exodus 5 passage, we witness even more ruthlessness added upon ruthlessness. Moses and Aaron have demanded that Pharoah release the incarcerated people of God. Pharoah responds by directing his slave-drivers to stop providing straw for the making of bricks, but instead demand that the Hebrew slaves gather their own straw while still being held to the same quota of bricks made per day. This in effect was double-the-work in the same amount of time. On top of this the ‘foreign’ laborers were beaten for working ‘too slowly.’ Pharaoh labeled and ridiculed them as “lazy.” This condemnation points to something we see universally prevalent in unjust systems and oppressive climates: while the insurmountable obstacles and merciless tactics are created and implemented by the very structures/classes/races of power, even so the blame and culpability for ‘failure’ is unjustly added upon the shoulders of the oppressed. We have heard many times in our places and times: “Why don’t they help themselves? Why are they so lazy? Why can’t they just get it right? Why do they keep killing each other?” All the while, we hoard the straw and expect our lives to be as full as they have always been–but on the backs of whom? It is easy to say this when we have distanced ourselves from the very intentional, premeditated acts of Pharoah. It is this distance and lack of self-awareness that become dangerous, oppressive blindspots.
But there is another narrative being woven into the Scriptures. The God-Story. We read that God heard the cries of His people, that he had compassion, and that he had a plan in place to use His leader to deliver the people to Freedom. This plan would take the people into the wilderness on the journey to salvation in the Promised Land. Even so, the journey would be difficult, fraught with its own threats and moments of despair. Almost inconceivably, there are times that the faith of the people are shaken so much that they want to turn back and return to the place from where they had come.
In his great speech in Acts 7, Stephen weaves the God-Story, the story so known to those in the Sanhedrin, into the Gospel Story of Jesus Christ. In this case, the proclamation of the “Good News” becomes a pointed, prophetic delivery intended to call-out the blindspots and systemic denial of the Holy Spirit by generations of the religious leaders of Israel. How could you miss the story? You continued to miss the message and killed the messengers. This is Stephen’s message, and he is stoned for it.
The season of Lent is a time for the church to walk in solidarity with Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus would not satisfy himself on bread cheaply won; he would not sell his soul for the allure of power; he would not demand that God break ranks and cash in on divine nepotism. But Jesus instead Luke-Skywalker-stayed-on-target his way into his ministry–in the heat, in his weariness, and in being famished in body and in his loneliness. And in this self-denial and fasting, he saw the truth very clearly, and was laser-sharp in his focus.
In this Lenten Season, may you walk in the wilderness with Jesus and may you become more aware of truth; may your blindspots be revealed and taken away; and may God give you a laser-sharp focus on His story and how He is calling you deeper into it.