Psalm 120, 121, 122, 123; Exod. 5:1-6:1; 1 Cor. 14:20-33a,39-40; Mark 9:42-50
Asians making bricks, Egyptian fresco, tomb of Rekh-mi-re, high official in the mid-1400s BC, outside Thebes, Egypt
Pharaoh seems to be an expert in laziness, although no doubt he’s never lifted a finger to do anything more strenuous than shoot lions from his chariot or order the execution of criminals or insist on a bigger reception room for his summer palace. Three times he uses the word “lazy” to describe the Israelites. Because, of course, when people want freedom, it’s really because they have too much time on their hands. “Slackers, you’re slackers. Let’s see how you react when we make it harder to do your job while ramping up the quota. That’ll teach you to complain!” A little later in the Bible, we’re going to see how this same attitude infects the Israelites themselves. Rehoboam, son of Solomon, reacts exactly the same to the Israelites when they complain that the taxes and forced labor of his father were too burdensome (I Kings 12). “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. He laid on you a heavy yoke? I will add more weight! He laid into you with whips? I’ll whip you with scorpions!” And the same thing happens: rebellion.
It’s the automatic reflex of the privileged to assume that any complaint is simply a small group of professional malcontents hanging out in bohemian cafes talking socialism, that the vast majority of people are delighted with the status quo. Because, of course, the status quo by definition gave the privileged their privileges. But that’s Pharaoh-thinking. And friends, in the coming days we’re certain to hear a lot of complaining about how the system isn’t working for people. Health care workers are already complaining that they’re not getting the protection they need. Those who’ve been laid off are starting to feel the pinch. Small business owners, students, those who’ve been trapped in a nursing home without a shampoo for a month: the list of complainants is sure to go on and on. Some of those complaints you’ll accept without blinking: some will be from groups you’re less sympathetic to. Before immediately rolling out your indignation and dismissing the professional malcontents, listen. Because it’s Pharaoh who dismisses legitimate complaints out of hand, and Pharaoh is not the person you want to emulate in this story.