Tag Archives: Abraham

Making god in our image

Today’s first reading on Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22: 1-19) is one of the most difficult passages in scripture for me. How could a god of love call for the death of a son? Soren Kierkegaard offered his own explanation in Fear and Trembling. I have to re-read this, but I’m not sure that I can accept his interpretation.

DSC00747

I prefer to think that Abraham projected on God the contemporary image of what the gods were – personages to be appeased by bloody sacrifices. The Canaanites gods – much as the Aztec gods – demanded human sacrifices lest great evils fall upon the earth.

Perhaps Abraham thought that the Lord God was like the other gods, vengeful, demanding sacrifice. Thus he was ready to butcher his only to appease this god.

But I wonder if he harbored a few doubts. As he and Isaac leave his servants with the donkey, he tells them, “We will worship and then we will come back to you.” We will return. And when Isaac asks where is the sacrificial victim, Abraham replies, “God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” The providence of God and not the ideas of Abraham will triumph.

After I meditated briefly on this passage this morning, I also read the Gospel (Matthew 9: 1-8), where men bring a paralytic to Jesus. The Lord tells the man, “Courage! Your sins are forgiven you.”

The scribes were scandalized. Who can forgive sins except God? How can sins be forgiven without a sacrifice in the temple? How can God work through a human and ignore the sins of this paralytic who is obviously a sinner?

They cannot see a God who forgives out of love, a God who does not require bloody sacrifices, a God who wants people to be restored to community with God – “Your sins are forgiven” – and to community with others – “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”

God does not act as we think he should. As Abraham notes, “God provides,” – or, as an alternative translation puts it, “God sees.”

We do not need to prove ourselves before God. We need to draw near, hear the voice of God, and see the lamb for the sacrifice. That lamb, in the tradition, is a sign of the Lamb of God who does not demand sacrifice but, out of love, hands himself over to be sacrifices.

God will provide.


 

The image is from Ravenna, the church of San Vitale.

This reflection is influenced by my meager understanding of the work of René Girard.

 

Taking the initiative in hospitality

When he saw them,
he ran from the entrance of the tent
to greet them.
Genesis 18:2

One of the most famous icons in the world is Andrei Rublev’s The Trinity, which depicts the three strangers who were welcomed by Abraham. I have seen other depictions of this scene that include Abraham and Sarah.

AbrahamVisitors

But reading today’s first lectionary reading, Genesis 18: 1-15, I noticed that Abraham was seated in his tent and he noticed the three men standing nearby. They had not come to the entrance to his tent, seeking help. They were just there.

And Abraham ran. This old man runs – something not very seeming for a revered old man. He runs to greet them and invites them to wash their feet, eat some food, rest, and then go on their way.

How often do I think that hospitality is being attentive to those who knock on my door. But that’s a minimalistic understanding of the hospitality of God.

Abraham teaches us that hospitality is looking out from his tent for the stranger, for the wayfarer. It means taking the initiative to welcome the other. We need not wait until someone comes asking help or a cup of water. We are called to follow the example of Abraham and go out and bring in the stranger.

Isn’t this what Pope Francis has been telling us. We need to go out from where we are, from the walls of our churches and our homes?

Isn’t this what the current refugee and migrant crises call us to do – not building walls, but strangers – refugees and migrants – into our midst?

Isn’t this what I am called to do as a deacon – to go out, running like the old Abraham, to serve those who stand outside in the heat of the day?

Isn’t that what God does for us – running out of heaven, coming down to earth, to show us love and rescue us from sin and separation?

Do not neglect hospitality,
for through it some have entertained angels unaware.
Hebrews 13:2

 


 

The photo is of a miniature that I purchased in Jerusalem, in the Church of the Dormition, many years ago – the work of a local artist.

Welcome the stranger

Remember always to welcome strangers,
for through it some have
entertained angels unaware.
Hebrews 13: 2

In many Catholic churches today the homily will be on the Gospel story of Mary and Martha. It’s a shame that many will probably not reflect on today’s first reading from Genesis (8: 1-10), the beautiful story of Abraham, Sarah, and the three visitors.

The most famous image is Andrei Rublev’s icon The Trinity, but forty years ago I saw an icon in Athens with Abraham and Sarah in the background as the three visitors ate. About ten years ago I found a miniature in Jerusalem that I’ve placed at the entrance of my home here in Honduras.

abraham3visitors

But reading the text this morning something struck me that I had never noticed before.

Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent at the hottest time of day. He looked up and saw them standing there and then:

 When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them.

He did not wait for them to approach. He took the initiative to welcome them, offer them water to bathe their feet and food to eat.

Welcoming the stranger is not merely waiting for someone to come and ask for help. As Abraham took the initiative so should we.

Like the Good Samaritan of last Sunday’s Gospel, we are called to see, feel compassion, and draw near – making ourselves neighbor to those who are in need or are passing by.

Welcoming the stranger is not merely waiting for them to come; it’s a positive act of welcome.

Come. Sit here with me. Let me give you something to eat.

And so, we may welcome angels, the messengers of God in disguise.

Look up. See them standing there. Welcome them in.

It won’t always be easy. I’m reading Dorothy Day’s diaries, The Duty of Delight, which reveal the difficulties she experienced and the challenges she faced.  But, she persevered, with prayer and patience, and so entertained these messengers of God. Appropriately, a film about her is entitled Entertaining Angels, even though it was not always entertaining.