Part of the power of praying the Daily Office lies in the fact that it follows a different lectionary. Yes, the Episcopal Church has two lectionaries, one for Sundays and feast days, and one for the Daily Office. The Daily Office lectionary leads us sequentially through the Bible, covering most of it in a two year span. Right now, the readings are drawn from Exodus, 2 Corinthians, and the Gospel of Mark. Today’s reading from Exodus speaks to the politics or our present moment in some devastating ways.
The daily readings are now telling of the seventh plague in Egypt, the thunderstorm of hail and fire. The story begins with God telling Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him that “this time I will send all my plagues upon you yourself, and upon your officials, and upon your people, so that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth.” Which raises an immediate question. Why didn’t God start with Pharaoh and the court officials when dealing out plagues? Why start with plagues that effect everybody (turning the Nile into blood, bringing infestations of frogs and gnats, etc.)? Wouldn’t it be more just to afflict the rich and powerful first, and leave the poor alone?
I don’t know why this is, but I can suggest an idea, although it might be scandalous. Perhaps God is innocent. Not innocent in the sense of innocent until proven guilty. Innocent in the sense of guileless, naive, expecting the best of the world and not wised up to the way things actually work. God seems to be starting with the assumption that Pharaoh actually cares about everybody who lives in the land of Egypt, while it’s quickly proven that Pharaoh only actually cares about the people he knows personally, and the material goods that make his life comfortable. The first plague, when the rivers are turned to blood, should be the most startling one. It should say to a leader, “I know I can weather this alone, but the people who I swore to protect are getting hurt. I need to do something.” Tragically, pharaonic leadership, then and now, doesn’t seem capable of entertaining this thought.
When Moses warns Pharaoh and his court, some of the court officials ignore him, but other officials run and bring their livestock inside, secure their property, try to mitigate the coming damage that the hail and fire will cause. In other words, they sell their stocks because they have inside knowledge and then watch, with indifference, as everybody else suffers plagues of illness, unemployment, and financial worry. We might feel shocked and surprised by such actions. Exodus 9:13-35 gives us a reason for such shock and surprise. We feel it because we’re aligned to God, who loves the world and thus expects a lot of it. We assume that people will understand such love, will act in accordance with it. And then we meet pharaoh’s court in our politics, and realize that, despite their protestations that they love and serve God as well, politicians who would do such things belong solely to Pharaoh, and not to the loving, liberating God of our faith.