Saturday, March 22, 2008


Rating: GT

It’s always the little things that trip me up.
The big things, the things it seems like most other people sometimes can have trouble with—the plagues, the miracles, the Incarnation—I’m OK with those, mostly. I’m not saying I understand them, but mostly I’m able to accept them, and accept the fact that I don’t completely understand.

It’s the little things.
[Exodus 12:7, 12-13]
“They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house in which they are to eat it…
“For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the LORD.
“And the blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”

The all-knowing, all-seeing, all-mighty God of Israel, creator of heaven and earth, author of the first nine plagues to strike the land of Egypt, who selected Moses out of all the Israelites and spoke to him from a burning bush that did not burn—God doesn’t know where the Israelites live? God needs them to mark their houses so he doesn’t smite the wrong first-born by mistake?

I am so perplexed by this idea of God needing us to mark ourselves in order to recognize us that it takes me a long time to realize I’ve skipped right over something: the part where God says to Moses, “This shall be a sign for you…”

Apparently, it is not enough for God that God loves us; God wants us to know ourselves to be loved. Apparently, it’s not enough for God that God rescues us; God wants us to know ourselves to be rescued.

“This shall be a sign for you…”

We need signs, and markers, in order to remember who we are.
We need signs and markers so we can remember what happened, because we often don’t understand the why and the how

but as long as we remember the what
we can tell the story
and the possibility for understanding lives in us and through us.

[John 13:6] He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Given that Peter was speaking Aramaic, and the Gospel account was written in Greek, which was translated into Latin and then English and then 20th century English, I don’t feel it’s going too far to speculate that something of the tone of Peter’s question may have been lost in translation. I imagine Peter saying something along the 1st century Aramaic lines of “What are you doing? Get up, man, you’re freaking me out!”
[John 13:7, 14-15] Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand… So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

“This shall be a sign for you…”

In his book The Will To Live On, Herman Wouk writes of his sense of personal identification with Biblical events, and the ways in which this identification was transmitted to him by his family community. He says,
[W]hen I was studying Talmud with my grandfather, I expressed boyish skepticism about the Revelation on Sinai. Unperturbed, my grandfather said, “Of course it happened. My father was there, and he told me about it.”
“Oh, Zaideh, your father?” I protested. “Come on.”
“Well, then, my grandfather or my great-grandfather, same thing,” said Zaideh. “And would he lie to me?”

Wouk goes on to say,
…One finds the same [mind-boggling collapsing of time] in even starker form at the heart of the Passover Haggadah. “In every generation a man is obligated to regard himself as having personally come out of Egypt, for it is written, ‘And you shall tell your son, this is what God did for me when I left Egypt.’”

Jesus says to us,
“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

It’s not enough that he’s about to go to a humiliating, excruciating, terrifying death on the cross? He has to get down on the floor and wash our feet first?

There’s a traditional part of the Seder, a song called “Dayenu,” which means, “It would have been enough.” Day, dayenu, day, dayenu… and following each round is a recitation of God’s outrageous, extravagant outpouring of love, of gift upon gift upon gift.

Had God brought us out of Egypt, and not supported us in the wilderness, it would have been enough. Dayenu.

Had God given us the Sabbath, and not the Torah: Dayenu.

Had God given us the Torah, and not brought us to the land of Israel: Dayenu.
Like that.

It’s one of the ways we remember.

Because apparently it’s not enough for God that God loves us. God wants us to know ourselves to be loved. And so God tells us to mark our doorposts and lintel with blood, as a sign for us that no harm shall come to us as God delivers us from bondage.

Had God delivered us only from Pharaoh, and not from our own self-doubts:

Had God given us only the Gift, and not the Promise that we are heirs to the Gift:

Had God given us only the Promise, and not the signs by which we know and remember:

Had God given us only the Incarnation, and not the Apostles:

Had God given us only the Savior who died on the cross, and not the Teacher who washes our feet:

Had God given us only God’s own self, and not one another:


yours in the struggle,


At 6:50 PM, Blogger Kirstin said...

Thank you.

At 5:52 AM, Blogger Missy said...

Wow. These are amazing bits of insight. Well said.

At 7:51 PM, Blogger FranIAm said...

This took my breath away- thank you.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Wren said...

All good, Max. Beautifully thought out, beautifully written and presented.
There's just one thing that niggles at me:
What about the poor, hapless, grieving Egyptian parents who lost their first-born children that night to the vengeful God who created them, just like he'd created the Israelites, but, it seems, who liked the Israelites a lot better? What about them? What about all those poor people who were punished for not believing the same way as the Israelites?
I'm sorry. I can't accept it as anything but another elaborate excuse for humankind's own inhumanity toward the "other."
Convince me otherwise.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Wren said...

Oh, and by the way -- I've sure missed you, sweet Max. Welcome back.


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