THE BLOG
08/22/2014 05:47 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2014

Midwives, Moses and the Demonization of Mothers Meditations on Exodus 1:8-2:10

This Sunday, many Christians will hear a familiar story in worship -- the story of Moses' mother, Jochebed, placing him in a basket and putting him in the Nile. It is a story that we grew up with in Sunday School, acted out in Vacation Bible School, and read in our children's Bible as we saw the picture of a smiling Jochebed as she places her smiling baby boy into the tranquil little stream of the Nile.

While that picture might be okay for our children, it is my hope that this Sunday, we will open our eyes to this well known story so that we can see what was missing from the pictures of our storybook Bibles: Pharaoh's death squads breaking down doors and tearing baby boys from their mother's breasts; the screams and weeping of mothers refusing to be comforted because their children were no more; the desperation of Jochebed trying to keep her son hidden away, and the realization that Pharaoh's men were on the move and the three month old child cannot be kept quiet any more; and the devastation on her face as she puts her precious baby in a basket and watches him as he floats down the Nile River away from the death squads but towards unknown dangers.

We need to hear this story anew because there are thousands of Jochebeds suffering in Central America because they too have put their babies in baskets and have watched them float down the Nile so that they might also be save from certain death. And while we look upon Moses' mother with admiration and lift up her trust in God as an example for us to follow, we look down at these modern day Jochebeds and think of them as horrible mothers. From the safety of our suburban homes, we ask, "how could they send their children away?" "How could they allow their children to make such a dangerous journey?"

As if somehow, these mothers love their children less than we do, as if they came to the decision to send their children to the US on a whim. We don't consider for a moment, how bad things must be for them to send their children -- the children they carried in their own body and nursed with their own breasts -- on the dangerous journey north. Perhaps, this Sunday, as we celebrate Jochebed's courage and faith, we might find ourselves deciding to stand in solidarity with mothers who face horrific decisions because of violence and poverty instead of standing in judgement of them.

This movement to solidarity is not an easy journey. Most of us cannot imagine the heart wrenching choice of Jochebed or the countless mothers in countries like Honduras -- it is unfathomable to us because of the security of our privilege, whether that privilege arises from the color of our skin, the neighborhood we live in, or the citizenship we hold -- we will never have to face the decisions that Central American mothers are facing this very moment. I have never wept over my child as I place him, screaming for me, in a basket to float down a treacherous river filled with wild animals and dangerous currents, instead I am Pharaoh's daughter bathing downstream oblivious of the suffering of other mothers.

And I have never sent my child off with a group of strangers, clutching the name and number of a relative in the U.S. in their precious little hands, to make a journey that is filled with potential violence and rape, instead I stand on the other side of a militarized border oblivious of the suffering of other mothers.

And so, as we read the passage about Jochebed, it is not just the violence surrounding her that we need to understand -- there is also another part of the story that we also need to hear, and that is the story of Pharaoh's daughter.

As she pulls Moses from the reeds, she is faced with a choice. Does she collaborate with her father and send the child to the death squads, or does she give him sanctuary in her home? Does she collaborate with death? Or does she defy the law of the land and save a life? We know the answer- she rescues the boy and takes him into the courts of the palace where he will grow up to lead his people to freedom -- but not before she gives him back to his mother to be nursed and cared for. You see Moses' sister Miriam who had been following him to make sure he was safe, approaches Pharaoh's daughter and says that she has the perfect nurse for the child and arranges for Pharaoh's daughter to give Moses back to Jochebed and when he is weened she will takes him back to the palace. But I imagine, Moses growing up moving between the two homes, being brought up by this circle of women. I imagine that there on the banks of the River Nile these three women became co-conspirators to save Moses from certain death. But they were not the only ones who were conspiring against death. Right before we read of the birth of Moses, we read of Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives who were commanded by Pharaoh to kill all of the baby boys but who defied his orders and in on-going and frequent acts of civil disobedience they birthed the generation of Moses and Miriam and Aaron; the generation that after hundreds of years of slavery would finally be free.

And so in the midst of this narrative that is filled with violence is another narrative that arises from these powerful women. Midwives breaking the law and birthing babies. Jochebed, Miriam, and Pharaoh's daughters drawn together in a conspiracy of life. On Sunday as we hear this familiar story again, may those of us who stand downstream in the Nile, begin to conspire with the suffering and heartbroken mothers of Central America. May we conspire to defy death squads and those who would wish to deport children back to death squads. And may our conspiracy of motherhood raise up a generation of Moseses and Miriams, ready to lead their people out of the grip of Pharaoh into the promise of freedom.