We begin OUR JOURNEY to PARADISE FOUND by setting the background for the Exodus Story which begins with the narrative of the family of Jacob and Rachel who had twelve sons. The first ten were maidservants of Rachel and her sister Leah but the last two were from Rachel, the first being Joseph who then became the favorite of Jacob as the firstborn of his wife. Eventually, the brothers become jealous of Joseph and decide to eliminate him by casting him into a cistern to die. They feel guilty, so they sell him to travelers who were going to Egypt where Joseph eventually rises from a slave to become a high official in the court of the pharaoh.
The story continues. A terrible famine occurred in the land. Because Joseph rose to power, the Israelites or tribes of Israel headed by his brother, Juda, decide to turn to him out of desperation. Joseph arranges for them to come to Egypt to relieve their hunger. Once there, the ascension of a new pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) is the beginning of their bondage or captivity by that powerful pharaoh who becomes concerned by the number and strength of Israelites in Egypt and enslaves them. The people of Israel are now in bondage and are held captive by an overpowering, formidable enemy. Lesson: Loyalty to man is precarious, Loyalty to God is a surety
Now, let’s pull apart this part of the story. The favoritism of Jacob toward Joseph leads to the jealousy of the brothers which led to unbridled anger which led to a desire to kill or eliminate the source of the brother’s jealousy. Jealousy or envy is one of the 7 deadly sins that the Catholic Church calls the Capital or “head” sins. They are Pride, Envy, Lust, Anger Gluttony, Greed and Sloth.These are the attitudes that lead to all other sins. Remember sin is really more than an action that is considered bad- it’s an action that separates us from the ground of all GOOD that we call God. Lesson: Our favoritism has consequences of some sort
From a personal standpoint then, this story of Israel’s bondage is our story. How often do we find ourselves reacting to trouble, disappointment, or shame by becoming jealous or by putting the blame on someone else causing ourselves and the other person to enter into a toxic relationship which begins to overpower us, a condition from which we find it hard to escape? Or how many times do we use other behaviors like greed, lust, or anger, to escape our troubles and wind up as slaves to one of many addictions that plague our lives and our society?
Alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography, consumerism, materialism, and many other such habits of escape lead us into captivity that becomes a bondage of sorts. And the worst part is that others make money off of these problems and that, my friends, is the horror of our times.
SO, the Exodus Story is not just about the Israelites escaping bondage or slavery but about our lives as well. “It’s about bondage, liberation, a journey, and a destination,” says Marcus Borg in the book mentioned above. Eventually, the Israelites desire to find a way out of their captivity. But they will be leaving a familiar home, with security and food, and familiar surroundings. Isn’t it just as hard for us to quit an addiction? To stop drinking or stop feeding our sexual desires, or our proclivity to “shop till we drop”? While we know the pain and suffering of our captive addictions, leaving them behind is somehow more frightening. It seems that we say to ourselves that only a miracle will save us! Reflection: What have we become slaves to?
Ah, so now we go to the Story of the Exile and Return.
As much as liberation from the bondage of Pharaoh or the bondage of an addiction might be desired and necessary for survival, the fear of uncharted territory or even a wilderness of thorny unfamiliarity or new friends and new behavior frightens us. How long will it take before we are “home” or back to normal or will we ever get back to normal?
Recovery from bondage or addiction can take a while even a lifetime according to AA participants. For the Israelites it took forty years! Forty years in the wilderness, in the desert, without anything but manna or slim pickings. Leaving our addictions might cause us to leave home, family job, and even friends if they are deemed to be toxic and contribute to our addiction. The uncertainty of the future can be disconcerting even paralyzing causing us to wander and even want to go back to our addiction, back to the land of our captivity. “And the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:3
Once back in their land and after forty years, they begin live in somewhat normal times. Their monarchy is established and Jerusalem becomes the capital of King David’s kingdom and then then the First Temple is built in Jerusalem by Solomon. Eventually the kingdom is divided in two: Israel and Juda with the later being attacked by the Assyrians and then being conquered by the Babylonians resulting in another exile once the Temple is destroyed.
As in the case of the nation of Israel, Liberation from an addiction can be scary, daunting, even too much to handle without discipline and it can even become a catalyst for recidivism or “falling off the wagon” as many a recovering alcoholic or addict will admit. The behavior of both David and Solomon were far from keeping the Commandments of their God and lead the Israelites on to the road o perdition. Once in disarray and caught off guard because of the lack of discipline, bad things can happen and did as described above.
Now don’t think that all this just applies to Israel or those who are addicts in the usual sense of the word or condition. No, it applies to all of us, the People of God, who like Adam and Eve, David and Solomon, leave Paradise every time we sin or separate ourselves from the Will of God. (The word disciple, is related to discipline: following certain knowledge.) We become misguided by a “Satan” or “snake” of our own making and wind up in the exile of separation and even depression. They say, “The best intentions pave the way to Hell.” and without discipline and a plan we perish. This is happening to our Church and to our country and to millions of Americans who are falling prey to lying, conspiracies, and even racism and bigotry. In both cases, the Church and America, the loss of power, the power of the clergy and of the white people is causing a deterioration into jealousy and anger, as well as shame and depression which is the perfect recipe for exile. The story of Israel is our story as well.
Therefore, the consternation and conflict we experience these days in America and around the world indicate the need for a return to discipline and principles or in both cases mentioned above, a return to virtue, truth, and the values that contribute to justice and freedom for all. if we are to live in a world of peace and tranquility we must recall to source and roots of our beginnings. For America, it’s the Constitution and for the Church it’s Jesus. A radical (going to the roots) movement is therefore necessary. The Israelites were reminded by the prophets about when Moses came down from the Sinai mountain with the ten commandments: “In the third month after the Israelites’ departure from the land of Egypt, on the first day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai.”Moses went up to the mountain of God. Then the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying: This is what you will say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine.You will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites. Gen 19:1-4
Thus begins the Priestly Story.
In this story, the Israelites receive directions, laws, rituals to assist them in becoming right with God. Sin, guilt, sacrifice, and forgiveness become the keys to unlock another bondage that kept them from the Promised Land or Paradise. For us the bondage can be ourselves, the tendency to want to be God by submitting to the lures of power, fame, and fortune. These three entities enable humans to control those who are still in the wilderness of exile or worse yet in the bondage of oppression and slavery which in the modern world is poverty. We must remember that the Israelites were led into Pharaoh’s grip of oppression because of a famine and a family rivalry. Famines are not just about food. They are about the lack of preparation, concern, caused by greed, neglect, and even worshiping idols to obtain favors and wealth in order to obtain power, fame, and fortune which some believe are essential to freedom and autonomy. The situation of the Israelites was so bad due to their proclivity to ignore God’s commands, that prophets arose to speak on God’s behalf and Teachers of the law devised 613 mitzvahs or mini-laws to help their people keep those ten commandments. The bondage of the Pharaoh was now replaced by the bondage of sin, guilt, sacrifice, and the constant need for forgiveness. Does this sound familiar? The Catholic Church has made these the foundation and structure of the Church to increase the ability and discipline to follow God’s Law more than following the Word or Jesus.
Needless to say, this is a burden that most people are no longer willing to bear. Rather, they seem to prefer the exile and wilderness of materialism, consumerism, technology, and entertainment which are replacing the need for God’s grace and presence. Those activities are society’s new religion- the “altar of Wall street “ which is far more profitable than religion in the here and now. People want Paradise now while they are alive.
Thus the authentic Paradise is still lost. This is not new because the biblical story describes how the Israelites were then overtaken or captured several times by foreign powers like the Persians, and Babylonians, and Romans. Their prophets warned them that this would happen but they ignored the warnings, much like when others warn us that we are about to return to bondage or exile and we ignore them.
Rome took over their land and ruled for many years thereafter. It was then that Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry, his activity, and teaching. No doubt he was shaped by the stories of the exodus, exile, and priestly structure of responsibilities that resulted in the initiation of two groups: the Pharisees who claimed Mosaic authority for their interpretation of Jewish Laws, and the Sadducees represented the authority of the priestly privileges and prerogatives.
Jesus began by challenging the system of Jewish laws and privileges of the Sadducees which became a burden upon the ordinary people whose life history was one of bondage and oppression by the Egyptians, Babylonians, and now the Romans.
The same has happened with Catholicism. Canon Law, tradition, and dogma are seen as burdens for many who are trying to follow Jesus. The only hope the people of Israel had was the savior or Messiah that the prophets had promised. Their liberation was long overdue but tempered by the regulations and practices of their religion which overcame the people with hopelessness. Isn’t this our story as well? Who is our savior?
The message of Jesus was the one expected by John the Baptist, a message of forgiveness rather than the slavery to the law. He laid the foundation for a messiah that would free the people from the current bondage of the Romans and of the Jewish laws and bring about the promised Kingdom of God which you and I might refer to as Paradise found! “Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” Mk 2:27
Jesus teaches the Way to freedom, the Way to the Kingdom of God or Paradise where “God would bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly, and fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty.” to paraphrase the Magnificat of Mary. Lk 1
His stories, parables, and teachings were validated by his healing, his freedom to eat with outcasts, and his ability to challenge the leaders of his own religion who added to the burdens already heaped upon them by the Romans. He appealed to fishermen, laborers, women, who were treated like property under the laws of Judaism, and even to a few who were members of the elite groups of religious leaders and at least one member of the Roman army- the centurion.
Given the weariness of their history of oppression and bondage and ours as well, his words were and are enticing and welcomed: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Mt 11:28–30
Finally, the people had found a way to Paradise in Jesus, and a way to eternity in God’s presence, the Promised Land that all of us desire and hope for.
Thus Christians can live and walk in freedom from the bondage of the worldly life with the very Word of God made human in Jesus who declared, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Jn 4:6
Paradise is found in Jesus and we can participate in it if we open ourselves to the power of the Spirit that we were promised by Jesus:
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Jn 14:15-31