The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.
O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, (R./)
He remembered us in our distress. (R./)
And he snatched us away from our foes. (R./)
The first-born of the Egyptians he smote. (R./)
He brought Israel out from their midst. (R./)
Arm outstretched, with power in his hand. (R./)
He divided the Red Sea in two. (R./)
He made Israel pass through the midst. (R./)
He flung Pharaoh and his force in the sea. (R./)
The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope."
Today's text from Exodus invites us to respect people who are racially different from ourselves. Even if the chosen people were in some ways stringently separated from non-Israelites, refugees and immigrants continued to have significant rights among them. When they were leaving Egypt, it says that "a mixed crowd also went up with them," suggesting people of different racial background. The Israelites must not value their racial purity as an absolute. The presence of foreigners among them is a factor shared with other oppressed peoples. It was as "the smallest of all nations" that God chose, to show his love and fidelity (Deut 7:7). If we wish to embrace the privilege of being God’s elect people, we need in turn to embrace kindliness, compassion and a healthy humility in face of today’s multi-ethnic society.
Matthew quotes Isaiah about the Suffering Servant. The apostolate of Jesus is portrayed in advance by this passage, written during the Babylonian exile. This text was puzzling to narrow-minded Jews in later generations, as its attitude towards the gentiles seemed too mild, offering hope for their salvation. Jesus is described as "my servant whom I have chosen, my loved one in whom I delight…The bruised reed he will not crush; In his name the gentiles will find hope."
If we ignore our neighbour’s troubles, we hardly deserve the name of Christian. Like Jesus we have some power to cure and heal, quietly, without ostentation. We cannot disregard the outsider without being called to account by God. As we open our hearts to people of mixed ancestry, according to the example of Jesus, we will be apostles of hope, not just for others but also for ourselves. In many ways, others can teach us how to be God’s chosen people.
What a contrast between the Pharisees plotting against Jesus, planning to destroy him, and the saint described by Isaiah, a servant of God who will not brawl or shout, who will not break the crushed reed nor quench the smouldering wick. There is one use of power that damages the innocent and a very different use of power that protects and nurtures what is vulnerable.
The latter is the power which filled the life of Jesus and which is meant to guide our lives. In daily life we encounter all sorts of "crushed reeds" and "smouldering wicks". At times indeed we ourselves can be the crushed reed or the smouldering wick. When we are at our most vulnerable, we need a power that can nurture, sustain and encourage us. Such is the power of the risen Lord, the power of the Spirit, and our calling is to be the channels of that life-giving power and encouragement to each other.