One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand […] When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
Exodus 2:11-12, 15
Moses is in a complex situation. He’s enjoying the pleasures of the palace while his family and community are beaten, hungry, overworked, and living in poverty. It is understandable why he might wander over to where the Hebrews lived and worked, asking himself how he had managed to escape from that life, and what purpose there might be in it. Maybe he felt overcome by the oppression he was witnessing and felt that he must take a stand against the evil he had seen. Maybe for him, dealing with one violent Egyptian (albeit violently) seemed like a good start. Instead, by entering into the cycle of violence which he escaped even from birth, he is caught up in it, and forced to flee for his life.
Pain speaks, even though we often don’t want to hear it. Our own pain speaks to us about the areas of our lives and the memories which remain tender and in need of caring attention. In the midst of our own pain, the easiest responses are either to suppress or to react in anger. For Moses, as with us, our reactions can trap us in the same cycles we hoped to escape. But God is able to meet us even in these cycles – although sometimes he, as with Moses, must draw us away from what we know, to a secluded place, in order to do what is necessary.
Moses hears the pain of the Hebrew slave who is being beaten – his pain is bound up with the pain of his brother. While his reaction inexcusably leads to the death of the Egyptian, his willingness to hear and respond to the cry of his fellow human being shows signs of compassion for the oppressed, and a heart coming to life. It is this heart that God nurtures while he is away from Egypt. God brings him to a place where his own identity as called by God is clear, and Moses is able to walk in wholeness, into his calling.
In our own lives we suffer our own pain which often longs to be heard, and we live in a world in which others also cry out; can we pray for ears to hear, and a heart softened by the Spirit which is willing to respond?
Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College