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Red Sea Theology

After the short break we took with yesterday's privileged memorial, we return to the Book of Exodus just in time to hear the age-old story of the parting of the Red Sea. This event cannot be underestimated. It is the pivotal event of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is the pinnacle experience of God's care for the People of Israel. Scripture scholars regard this story as the "starting place" for those who would understand the Old Testament. Though it is situated in the second book of the Torah, it has first place in the minds and hearts of all Israelites. From this single event flows the Jewish understanding of God as Savior.

Much has been written about the "how" of this event. How could God part the waters of the Red Sea and allow the Israelites to cross over it "dry shod"? If we use the Cecil B. DeMille model, we will be confronted with Hollywood's depiction. While it is "spectacular," as was most of the work of DeMille, it probably does little to further the cause of Biblical Scholarship. The simple fact is that chariot wheels don't operate in muddy soil the way human feet do. However, there is more here than "low tech" transportation.

Pharaoh and his army are the epitome of stubbornness, arrogance, pride, and a host of other vices. They do not depend upon God for their success. They see themselves as the ones who are powerful. They put their trust in their own devices and in their prowess. For them it is a foregone conclusion that the Hebrew children are without recourse.

Just the opposite is true of Moses and his people. They realize that without God, they are nothing. That sense of dependence is what saves them from doom. They put their trust in God's "strong right arm," and they are saved as a result.

So much of the Old Testament "reruns" this experience. Memory of God's saving intervention in the lives of the Hebrew children is the bedrock of their worship. However, this event is also the foundation of much of the Christian Scriptures as well. The incident of the escape through the Red Sea prefigures the Sacrament of Baptism, through which we are saved, and the memorial of the Eucharist is our own "rerun" of Jesus' redemptive death.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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