In today’s first Mass reading, we are introduced the sister of Moses. She appears in several episodes in the Book of Exodus, each of which displays her as someone to be reckoned with. This is particularly true of today’s reading.
The backdrop to our encounter with her in this reading is that Pharaoh has become worried that the Hebrews in Egypt are multiplying so quickly they could become a potent enemy. So he decides to enslave them and later decrees the death of all Hebrew baby boys.
To protect Moses, his mother places him in a small basket among the reeds of the Nile. We meet the young Miriam, introduced not by name but rather as Moses’ sister, when she hides in the reeds to watch the baby. Soon Pharaoh’s daughter finds the basket with the baby and takes pity on him. At that moment, Miriam appears. She asks Pharaoh’s daughter whether she would like a Hebrew nurse for the baby, and the princess agrees. Miriam brings Moses’ mother to nurse her son, and later the princess adopts Moses.
In a commentary to this passage written by a woman named Marsha Pravder Mirkin, we read
Miriam, no matter how entrenched her faith, did not seem to accept the idea of leaving the situation up to God. Instead, she developed a partnership with God, believing that “God helps those who help themselves,” as the old adage goes. She hid near the water, available to take a proactive role if necessary in saving her brother’s life. From her hiding place, she witnessed the princess coming down to the Nile, the river that was the grave of so many Hebrew baby boys. She witnessed the princess looking at the baby with pity in her eyes. And before the princess had a chance to change her mind, Miriam was there, a powerless slave looking at a powerful regent, offering her a way to live by her conscience. Miriam suggested to the princess that Moses be nursed by a Hebrew slave. The princess not only allowed Miriam’s mother to nurse the baby, but paid her for doing so. Miriam’s relational strength permitted her to see the possibility for righteousness even in the daughter of an evil monarch, and then speak up in a voice of faith and love.”
What made Miriam speak up to the princess? What gave her the courage? What let her know she might find a sympathetic ear?
Miriam’s action came from a deep passionate love. For God? For her parents? For her brother? Perhaps all three. From somewhere, she understood that she had an active part in God’s plan. And she fearlessly took her part. She inspires us to do the same.