July 17, 2017
by Nancy Shirley
Creighton University's College of Nursing
click here for photo and information about the writer

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 389

Exodus 1:8-14, 22
Psalm 124:1b-3, 4-6, 7-8
Matthew 10:34 — 11:1
Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

The readings for today offer both disturbing situations/choices and hope for a bright future.  The first reading in particular was difficult to think about with the images that were created and the general attitude that it conveyed.  The gospel was nearly as challenging as we were told that we must love more than anything else on this earth.

When I read the first reading, I was thinking the story was not new, I’ve seen the depiction of the Egyptians and the Jews and how ill-treated they were. The epic movie of Moses was still clear in my memory. The thought of killing babies to control the population of another group of people was gut-wrenching to say the least.  I was still thinking about this when in the Dominican Republic earlier this month,  I read the book The Farming of Bones – a novel about the 1937 massacre of Haitians in the DR by the dictator Trujillo who feared the Haitians were becoming too numerous.  He didn’t stop with killing babies, he had all ages slaughtered.  My discomfort grew as I compared the two and thought how easily we are threatened by the presence of others.  But it was not to stop there, on my plane trip home, I watched the movie The Zookeeper’s Wife.  Once again seeing the mistreatment of fellow human beings, this time it was the Jews being victimized at the hands of the Nazis, was sickening.  I cried at young girls being brutally raped, children being forced on trains (knowing where they would lead), and people shot without mercy.  I thought how do I write a reflection now that isn’t all doom and gloom – that isn’t an indictment against us as people who allow such things to happen. Then, the Holy Spirit intervened, or at least I believe some holy source and I heard the voice inside me say, but what about all the good that transpired in these horrendous, despicable situations?  Don’t write about the despair and hateful behaviors; focus on the good, the people who risked it all to make a difference in spite of the seemingly impossible odds of the situation. 

So, I want to write of, and for us to think about, the good we have around us now and in the past especially in the midst of such situations.  Although our first reading today ends with the order to kill all the male children, we know what comes next.  Jochebed (or Yocheved), the mother of Moses, dares to save her son.  She places him in the water-proofed papyrus reed basket and sets him adrift in the river.  When the Pharaoh’s daughter sees him, she clearly recognizes him as a Hebrew baby but doesn’t alert her father to say here’s another to kill.  Instead, she shows mercy and saves him.  The boldness of his sister Miriam to come forward and offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse him is extraordinary.  Thus, it is the “conspiracy” of three incredible women that saves a baby and a people despite the horror of the times!

Similarly, in the time of the massacre in 1937, there were Dominicans in defiance of Trujillo (often at the cost of their own lives) who worked to smuggle Haitians across the border or to hide them from Trujillo’s thugs.  Although far too many perished in that action, many were saved because of such unselfish actions and kindness shown by strangers.  Then we come to the Zabinskis: Dr. Jan Zabinski, the zookeeper, and his wife, Antonina whose kind nature and love of living creatures is evident as the story begins.  Their reaction to the bombing of Warsaw and the treatment of the Jews is first to hide a friend.  Soon they realize the extensive horror happening to all and make a commitment at their own peril to save children.  They risk everything as they turn their beloved Warsaw Zoo into a secret refuge for harboring Jews as they flee the ghetto.  By the end, over 300 “guests” had experienced the kindness of the Zabinskis and all but two, who were executed by the Nazis, survived. 

These are the images that I want to remember.  These are the people led by the Holy Spirit to take the risks and show mercy and kindness, be it a young princess in defiance of her father or a doctor on the border of two countries caring for the oppressed or a couple risking everything to hid hundreds of persecuted countrymen.  It is people like them and others all over the world that Jesus calls to in the gospel. In the gospel, Jesus mentions that He did not come to bring peace but the sword.  I believe this message is about the battle of good over evil.

… whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

To follow after Christ is not always easy, probably never the easiest road to take.  Yet it is the one with the most rewards. The challenges may, indeed, be of this earth, but the rewards surely are not!

 … whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple– amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

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