The first verses of the Book of Exodus might cause us to think that many years have passed since Joseph and his brothers had come to Egypt. However, the idea may be not simply that a new king came to power who had not heard of Joseph but that this king ignored the services that Joseph had rendered to Egypt, repudiating the special relationship that existed between Joseph and his predecessor on the throne. God had promised that the Israelites would prosper and multiply. The new king finds the growth of these people troubling and decides to intervene to curb the growth of this people. In doing so, Pharaoh’s actions thereby immediately pit him against God’s will for the Israelites.
Even though the Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible, it is really the starting place for anyone who wishes to understand the Hebrew Scriptures. The covenant relationship which is established between God and the children of Israel is the foundation for all of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is impossible to understand them unless one understands the covenant. For this reason, the Book of Exodus holds the privilege of being the most important book in the entire corpus of the Bible. Even the Gospels cannot be adequately understood unless one considers the Sinai covenant, for Jesus himself declares that he has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. It is in the Book of Exodus that we are first introduced to the Law.
In the Gospel for today we hear the end of the discourse in which Jesus commissions the Twelve to go out and preach that the Kingdom of God is near. If we listen closely to his words, we cannot help but hear them as an echo of the statement that God made when Moses received the Law on Sinai; namely, if you will be my people, then I will be your God. Jesus reminds us that our relationship to God is the priority of our lives. Nothing is more important than that relationship. Though the second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves, the first commandment is to love God and place nothing before God in our lives.
Jesus understood this so well that he was willing to lay down his life in obedience to God’s will. The Eucharist is a constant reminder that we are called to the same kind of obedience.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.