Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Thought for Thursday 6 November 2014

Genesis 18 is a study of contrast in the reality we deal with on a daily basis.  We have Abraham receiving three “men” (presumably strangers, at least in the beginning) not necessarily because there was anything apparently special about these men but because even in the ancient world, hospitality to strangers was a very big deal.  Because of our New Testament lens, however, we read into Abraham’s reaction more than there may be initially because of his greeting; “My lord, if I find favor with you (NRSV) …”  It follows that Abraham wants to give them respite as it was “in the heat of the day”.  All is well as Abraham and Sarah go about preparing a meal and serving these men.  Of course we know it follows there is clearly more to these “men” because Abraham is then told that Sarah (previously known as “barren” and now known as “old”) will conceive.

Then these men set out from Abraham’s tent, the place of hospitality, and head toward Sodom, the place of extreme inhospitality, due to the “outcry that has come to Me” from those who suffer according to the “very grave sin”.  The Scriptures open up the gap between the two in stating that The Lord’s determined judgment is not for Abraham is to be concerned with.  Rather he and his seed are charged with “doing righteousness and justice” (vs 19).

Yet Abraham, once he is aware of what Sodom is about to face, does make it his concern to intercede with The Lord on behalf of those who may get caught up in the judgment that is coming.  Some have suggested Abraham was concerned only with Lot, his nephew.  Though the text does not tell us this, we insert it into the context because, frankly, this would likely be our own concern!  We would not care so much about those who may have it coming.

We primarily concern ourselves with family and a few close friends.  Though this is not in itself a bad thing, we fail to understand the importance of offering genuine hospitality to strangers, teaching our children of its importance.  Though it is written in Hebrews that these strangers might be angels (13:2), we miss the greater point in hospitality that serves for its own sake rather than for what we hope to personally gain from our hospitality.

Watching Abraham open his tent to these men, we see the ideal of a nation called forth; a nation charged with the privilege and responsibility of “doing righteousness and justice” which involves receiving strangers, and a “priestly” nation that will provide intercession between Heaven and earth on behalf of those who suffer from a lack of “righteousness and justice”.  Sometimes our intercession involves prayer when we realize the limits of our capacity, but most times (I think) this intercession will necessarily involve our “doing” righteousness and justice with our own hands – not just for kin but also for neighbors whom we do not know. 

Some suggest we cannot always know our limits.  I submit, however, that we often fail to test our limits in a willingness to go out on a limb for those we do not know and especially for those we do not like.  Yet we see our ancestor Abraham daring to go to extreme limits in trying to make a deal with The Lord for strangers he does not know; and this after he has given up his free time in favor of these men who showed up in the middle of the day.  In all things, the Divine Ideal is pushing self aside to serve The Lord and “neighbor” – with hands and with prayers.

Though this may not be who we actually are, it is the manifestation of what we are called to be: a “priesthood of believers” charged with serving The Lord and our neighbor in the name of The Lord.  We must not question who is worthy of our favor because the Ideal expressed by Messiah Jesus went to the cross “while we were sinners”; completely unworthy of such consideration.

This service to one another will not always be easy, but it is always necessary.  It is the Ideal which was in the beginning and will be in the world to come.  Today we decide where we want to fit in.  “Choose this day whom you will serve”.  We must choose wisely ... and choose daily.



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