Blind Man III: Pride, Prejudice, and the Manhunt for Jesus

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

-John 9:13-17

When I first met my best friend from college, I thought he was a pot-smoking atheist whose parents made him go to a religious school. The best way to describe him superficially would be to say that he is laid-back, punkish in his fashion, and with manner of speech and mannerisms I could best describe as aloof and even apathetic. But after a month of getting to know him, I found that these presumptions were so far from the truth. He actually was an advocate for those in his school to get out of their destructive habits, was very polished in his tastes of music and art, and had a yearning for finding purpose and meaning in his lives and to help others in their quest for purpose and meaning.

To this day, I tell people that first impressions are after wrong. What has held especially true for me in my life is how a negative first impression is often a good sign that I’m encountering an individual with great depth, with an incredible story, with something important to offer to me.

In the story of the blind man being healed, we see two first impressions of Jesus.

The blind man perhaps is the figure in this story warranting the most amount of distrust. While today we have a society that largely accommodates and protects those with handicaps, it’s not without reason that in the brutal days of the Roman empire that these individuals would be taken advantage of. His earnings from begging might be syphoned, assistance received might be marred by cruelty and humiliation, there is no shortage of scam or abuse that could have taken place for him. But, although the blind man has the most reason for being the skeptic in this story, we see he is the figure with the greatest confession of faith. He boldly calls Jesus a prophet for being able to open his eyes…and later in this reading we shall see that he gives a greater confession of faith, of following after the Messiah and Son of God. The blind man is not jaded because of his handicap, and his handicap doesn’t get in the way of his meeting of Christ. In fact, perhaps, his handicap aids his view on Jesus.

Compare his first impression to that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees not only have their ability to see, but they are well-read and educated. There’s a great deal of “perspective” they have due to their status. Ironically, they are the ones who have trouble of making any confession of faith, of seeing Jesus’ healing as good and godly. Instead they call the Son of God a sinner for performing a miracle on the Sabbath, the day of rest in which no work could be done.

Here the Gospel reminds us that education can mislead us, that acquisition of knowledge can nourish the passions of our intellect: our pride, vanity, fear, and even our wrath. Many of us exit our first year of college or grad school with a sense of superiority with our knowledge, with a contempt for those that we are taught to look down upon. I confess my first year of seminary made me into a boisterous zealot, wherein I was so focused on flaunting the rules of dogma and theology that I had learned, which often distanced myself from my closest of kin and friends. A parenthetical should be stated that knowledge and education are not inherently evil, but rather we must monitor what that education does to our soul, to temper the feelings that might swell in us from such education, and ultimately not to lose our humanity with this acquisition.

This brings us to an important crux in this Gospel lesson: the blind man seeks out God, the Pharisees don’t. What’s interesting is how the Pharisees meander around, asking each other, the blind man, and even his parents for the story of this healing. But never once do they put forth an effort to find Jesus. Instead, they know what they need to know about Him: He broke the Sabbath. That’s enough for the intellectual mob, they’ve already made their verdict without even an investigation.

Again, our intellect and capacity for reason can often affect our souls and mislead us from the truth. While many of us are tempted to place the mind as the highest part of our souls, it’s important for us to keep in mind that God also gives us instinct and heart to listen to as well. Our thoughts are not always our own, and we can be deceived by the noise. But we have gut sensations of trust that we follow for good reason much like Peter in his boldness, and as we see in the Road to Emmaus our hearts can burn and tell us something we know to be true even when our minds just can’t accept the facts.

My appeal here is to the skeptic, the jaded believer, to the one who does not approach the Christ that has been written off. Whatever the reason, whatever the offense, whatever the “broken Sabbath” may be, pursue Him. Argue even if you must. But see how the Pharisees get nowhere when they only pursue the one that Christ has worked the miracle for, when they interrogate the 2nd hand account of his parents. If they were after the truth of the healing, they would have turned the city over to find Him, and some would believe, and some wouldn’t.

But let us not let our prejudices and proud learning prevent us from a real investigation as to who Jesus is. Writing Him off is like missing out on a best friend who we chose not to talk to because of what we thought he/she was about based on the surface.

Seek Him out. Ask the questions in earnest. Set aside the mind, and let us give our hearts and our instincts a chance to guide us to truth.

Blind Man II: Would You Let God Spit On You?

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” (John 9:6-7;13-16)

When we pray, most of the time we are asking God for something.

I mention this not to stop anyone from relying on God. In fact ,I think we need to rely on God far more than we usually do. Too often is the case that we get on our knees before God when things get really bad rather than when things are seemingly going alright. Regardless, God hears these prayers from our aching heart. His ears are open to us. But are our eyes, ears, and hearts towards Him as we wait?

In short: when we ask God for something, do we have expectations?

Do we imagine an answered prayer should look a certain way? Do we have a timeline when a miracle should manifest? Would we be upset if God’s response was an indirect answer, addressing perhaps not the symptom of our problem but the disease?

The healing of the blind man is a perfect manifestation of our tendency to have expectations on prayer, specifically, on how God should answer them.

When we line up the various miracles that Christ did, we see that He doesn’t operate in a one size fits all manner. For the centurion, He speaks a word from afar and the servant is healed. For the paralytic, He forgives his sins. To the lepers, He gives them the task of walking with faith to the high priests, and to Peter’s mother-in-law He rebukes (as though chastising a child) the illness. In most cases, we see that Jesus gives a word alone and the illness is healed, the demon is cast out, and the spirit returns to the body. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Divine Logos, and we so we see how powerful God’s Word is through His speech. It’s hard to imagine if the people around Him would have preferred Jesus touching the infirm over speaking a word, but the alternative to this wasn’t always so palpable.

In John 9, and even in Mark 8, Jesus performs a miracle in a way that might hit a nerve with our disgust sensitivity. Imagine if you were told by someone they could heal you with their saliva. Would you feel comfortable with that, let alone believe them? In the aforementioned healings of the blind men, Jesus spits in dirt, makes clay, and heals the blind.

But looking before at all the cases wherein Jesus heals merely by speaking a word, it begs the question why Jesus would suddenly use this tactic? Why did He use dirt and spit instead of just some water, or saying the word? Why didn’t He just reach out and touch the eyes with His fingers and leave out all the other elements? Perhaps none of those questions were on the Pharisees mind when they witnessed a Jew healing on the Sabbath.

If anyone were in need of a Scriptural basis for how low dirt was regarded, one need look no further than Christ telling the Disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” when they enter a town that would not receive them, noting that even the lowest thing the town offered to the Disciples was not worthy of being carried out by them. Dirt is under trod by the masses, a stain, and even associated with death as we remember God speaking to Adam, “from dust you were born, and to dust you will return.”

It’s not much further of a stretch for us to associate spit with something just as demeaning. All bodily fluid was regarded as an unclean thing, and the timeless manner in which people are insulted was through spitting on someone’s face. Ancient peoples had a sense of the unsanitary nature of human saliva, and so one can imagine what those around Jesus must have thought or felt seeing Him create clay with His spit instead of blessing and pouring water.

But the Lord has His purposes with these elements, He has reason to “spit on us”.

To begin, we can regard Jesus using elements instead of speaking as a testimony to Christ favoring using vessels of His Grace instead of performing a miracle without a means of extra elements. What I mean by that is that God is not a micromanager, that the Lord seems to delight in using His Creation as a vehicle for His Grace. Jesus can, has, and will heal by His voice alone, but we still see so many cases of Jesus healing through His saints, His relics, His creation (human and otherwise). The symbol of the dirt and spit combining together into the clay of healing is an image of God and man working in tandem to heal. God exhales His Grace into you and I, and we are responsible for participating and retaining that Grace so that the blessing may multiply.

The other component of these elements of spit and dirt is the reminder that humility is what’s needed in our hearts to receive a miracle, to receive God’s message to us. Again, dirt and spit are lowly elements, things that you and I would prefer not have on or in our faces, and yet the Lord heals by it. Onlookers may have cringed seeing this display of healing, and were the young man germophobic perhaps he would flinch if he saw what was happening. But this healing reminds us the need for humility when we approach God for a request in prayer. We cannot go to God with our lofty ideas of how He should answer our prayers and needs. Instead, we go with bowed head and bended knee, expecting perhaps nothing but total humiliation…but in said humiliation finding unfathomable treasure.

As we already touched on, it wasn’t merely the elements that were scandalous in this healing, but the timing. Why did Jesus have to intentionally do this on the Sabbath, on a day that would upset so many? Another way of putting this is why didn’t Jesus heal on a day easier for everyone else?

That often becomes a question after we put our petition to God. Sometimes we suffer so greatly and the healing comes days, weeks, months, years later. Sometimes our misery is not immediately relieved, and we are indignant like the Jews, thinking God has done something unlawful by not abiding in our time and expectations. The difference between a “late” answer to a prayer and an answer to a prayer on the Sabbath is not that far when we consider that God—outside of time—has the best understanding of when a miracle or answer ought to come.

The healing of this blind man is not only a commentary on spiritual blindness. It’s also a message to us who go on bended knees before the Lord. When we pray, there is a need for us to humble ourselves first to God’s will. Asking for God’s mercy and expecting to be humbled and having to be patient is a good posture, because humility and patience are already qualities God is aiming to grow in our hearts. This is not to say that we should pray with pessimism or with a lacking of trust or confidence. Rather we address our real needs, we ask for God to see to these needs in the wisest manner, to open our eyes to see how and why He works the way He does, and ultimately that whatever we ask leads us to glorify Him and become a closer disciple of His.

Let us stay attentive to God’s abundant mercy in our lives.

Genesis 24: Synergy, Paddling In Tandem with God’s Current

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2 He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. 3 I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

5 The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

6 “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. 7 “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring[a] I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

10 Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim[b] and made his way to the town of Nahor. 11 He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.

12 Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

15 Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. 16 The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.

17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.”

18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.

19 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. 21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka[c] and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.[d] 23 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

26 Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, 27 saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

28 The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. 30 As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring. 31 “Come, you who are blessed by the Lord,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.”

32 So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. 33 Then food was set before him, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.”

“Then tell us,” Laban said.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

39 “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

40 “He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. 41 You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.’

Manifest destiny

We’ve spoken before on the anxiety induced by uncertainty, of the dissonance we feel for having such a finite view of time. Even when God gives us assurance–just as he did with Abraham–we are faced with doubts, wrestle with hypotheticals. Assurances are dislodged by dry spells and crises. We’ve spoken about crossroads before and how unnerving it can be to make choices, fretting over our futures as we deliberate which path to take in the present.

There’s a tension in the believer to leave all things to God and to manifest their own destiny. On the one extreme, sitting and doing nothing and “waiting for God” forsakes any responsibility of our own to let our lives happen, to risk ourselves to an adventure of peril wherein our journey to God’s plan requires many twists and turns. The other extreme is when we take God out of our deliberation, beset ourselves on our own personal goals and dreams, creating a plan for ourselves to abate any anxiety we might have of making ends meet or feeling accomplished. 

Giving God the entire wheel while sitting and staring at our belly buttons rarely produces fruit. Alternatively, going our own way without God is sure to lead to ruin and regret. 

a journey without promise

This story from Genesis gives us a beautiful example of the middle ground of these extremes. There are three figures who are anxious over the same thing: Isaac finding a wife. Abraham, Isaac, and the servant are all unsure who will be the proper matriarch of this divinely appointed family. We can infer Abraham works closer to God than perhaps he had in the past, leaving room for God to work in uncertainty instead of carving his own way. He gives a task to his servant to find this mysterious bride.

The instructions are simple: go to my home town, and not to those of Canaan. This distinction of Abraham is not one of racial purity, but rather is Abraham’s intention of consecrating his family to God, to steer away from pagan cultures that might steer Isaac or his offspring to cultic practices of sacrificing to strange gods. Abraham’s spiritual pedigree can be inferred by the generations we read about at the start of his story, and although there are some bad apples in the mixture we do see he has had some outstanding individuals who “walked with God” in his coat of arms. In short, Abraham keeps the priority of world view and belief center to his family’s values.

For one, this is some sound advice. Couples need not really have similar personalities or interests in order to “make it” in marriage. But differences in personalities helps the couple grow. Timeliness versus an easy-going attitude can smooth out the rough edges of each extreme, bringing the couple to a better understanding of each other’s proclivities. Diversity in interests can help foster curiosity among the two, inclining the other to learn about each other’s strengths and passions so as to encourage them to do the same towards others. 

Not so with world views. On a basic level, if a couple were to debate whether or not the world was flat or round, the couple’s will be locked in a long debate as to how the world really is, and what truth really is. This easily can lead to dehumanizing attitudes towards the other, considering the other ignorant or arrogant. This is a superficial example that has to do with fact and speaks nothing on the topic of morality. Couples that have very far opposed views of politics and faith will find great challenges the more entrenched they are in their own world views. Certainly, one side might concede to the other to alleviate the dissonance, but what if one couple were to leave a true belief on behalf of appealing to their spouse’s view merely for keeping the peace? 

To summarize, Abraham is looking to create a united house for his son, to prioritize the truth that has provided him a son, that has spared him from much crisis and calamity. Abraham prioritizes God for his son, and isn’t it only fair that he should set this standard?

And yet, Abraham and his servant aren’t quite sure that this endeavor will bring any fruit. The servant asks for a hypothetical, dares to ask, “what if God doesn’t provide”? It’s a scary question to even ask perhaps, and yet we do see Abraham dare to ask God, “how will I know you’ll give me a son when…” The ideal is perhaps to trust given what is known, but maintaining the relationship with God even in a state of doubt is the next best place lest one walks away entirely from the possibility of an all-powerful, loving Creator and Savior.

The servant’s bold question is met with assurance, however. Abraham tells him that if the journey is fruitless–if seemingly God does not provide–that the oath the servant swore will dissolve, that he will be freed of the obligation, but that an angel will be with him in his journey regardless.

The only peace of mind this servant receives from Abraham is that he won’t be under any curse or disappointment from Abraham if he comes back empty-handed–so long as he tries–and that an invisible comforter will accompany him (we read this later as the servant tells the story). 

Still, what assurance does the servant have? Is he given weapons to protect himself on the journey? What provision does he have to protect the treasure he is told to carry along the way? Is there any sign he can rest upon and take comfort in? 

No, this servant is given nothing and must tread to Abraham’s homeland–a place we don’t even know if he’s been to before–and wait for the right woman to show up.

As the story goes, this journey ends up being a success, and Isaac is betrothed to Rebecca. 

working with god’s energy

For us, reading this story, we should take courage that God will provide in our anxiety, that there awaits something beyond the veil of uncertainty. 

I know too well the anxiety of choosing a career, of courting a stranger, of making a bold move that will affect the rest of my life. It’s a crippling and paralyzing thing to be at such crossroads, and this paralysis speaks to something good and holy in us: we concede that our own logic and discernment are lacking and mislead a great deal of the time.

When we admit our lack of discernment and wisdom in such decisions, God shows His power, because we have given Him space through our humility.

That being said, the servant still makes the journey without any real aim, and Abraham endeavors to send him out. So too for us, it requires some kind of movement on our end and trust that God will steer us as we walk forward. Perhaps some doors will be shut, some opportunities closed off. Perhaps that’s God reorienting us as we blindly walk forward.

The important word that summarizes all this is synergy, the combining of work between God and man. I don’t believe that God is a micromanager, but rather He is more of a dancer, working with us in our clumsy footwork, waiting for us to let Him lead…not that He merely sweeps us off our feet, but so that we can learn His steps and follow.

God is like a current in a dense forest or tall valley, wherein we will have no real idea where the water pools out to. Do we refrain from putting our canoe in because of this fear of where the water heads? Do we find ourselves in the river but think we can fight the current, paddle even harder West when the water is trying to carry us East? Do we merely recline in our boat and let our vessel crash us into fallen debris in the water or into the muddy shore, or do we paddle to keep ourselves squarely in the safety of the center of this flow?

I believe this is our God. God the dancer. God the river. A coworking God, not an over-functioning one.

It merely requires on our part that we act boldly as well as humble ourselves to ask for God’s mighty hand to patiently and gently steer our way.

Today, consider the following:

  • When have you embarked on something without any expectation?
  • How many decision do you make on your own? On big decisions, who do you typically confer with?
  • What encourages you in times of uncertainty? What are some practices you can employ to encourage you during such uncertain ventures?
  • What times do I not consult God in decisions or circumstances? What times do I do nothing about my decisions or circumstances but trust God? What might a median look like?

Genesis 23-Gift Giving

Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites.[a] He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”

The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”

10 Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 11 “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give[b] you the field, and I give[c] you the cave that is in it. I give[d] it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”

12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels[e] of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”

16 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.

17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded 18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.

This reading of Genesis comes across as a Mediterranean family arguing over the bill at a restaurant. All parties become aggressively generous, dismissing each other’s graciousness to insist that they cover the bill. At its best, it’s an affable yet clumsy dance of generosity. At its worst, it’s a battle of wits, the most stubborn of the contest becoming the winner, paying perhaps for the food but in the end rewarded with a sense of superiority for being able to peacock their finances.

This back and forth between Abraham and Ephron has the potentiality of being both, of each party having good intentions while also gaining something selfish in refusing the other’s generosity.

The story reminds us that Abraham is fairly well off from all his adventures, but has become very poor through the death of his wife. He has settled among a new tribe that seems peaceful enough to dwell among, decent enough for him to dialog with. Even the people in the land regard Abraham as a “mighty prince” and perhaps see him and admire him or fear him. Abraham states his intentions, wondering who he may purchase land from to bury his wife. The people, including their leader, Ephron, insist that money is not a concern and that Abraham has free reign to choose from where he pleases.

Abraham insists on paying. Ephron and his people insist that he can have the needed land at no cost. The dialog goes back and forth like a tennis match.

ephron the caretaker

When we look at these circumstances from the perspective of Ephron and the Hittites, there’s a dozen possibilities as to why they are so insistent to give Abraham the land at no cost.

For one, Abraham is regarded as a mighty prince. As mentioned before, Abraham is known of even if he is “a stranger.” What remains unknown is if the people admire him for his power and wealth or are in fear of him. Bringing gifts to a foreign tyrant is not an atypical act for these times, but neither is buttering up a possible ally. Abraham’s power could be of interest to them, and the offer of the free land in some way is a transaction: buying off his wrath, or gaining a favor for his alliance in their time of need.

Another possibility is that Ephron’s insistence is a bit of a show, a kind of virtue signaling to bolster his character. We hear that Ephron has this dialog with Abraham in the company of his people. One can imagine his people seeing Ephron’s insistence of giving up the land is a morally good act and therefore he is to be regarded as a good leader. Another possibility is that Ephron wishes his people to see his power and wealth, to give up land for free is to perhaps communicate that he has something of great value that can be spared. Either way, there’s a possibility that Ephron’s personal interests in this are towards his own reputation. This isn’t something foreign to us today.

The positive spin on this story is that Ephron merely sees a grieving husband and is moved towards a gesture of empathy. Perhaps Ephron has lost someone in his life already. Perhaps Ephron fears of losing his own spouse seeing Abraham grieve. Even for those of us who have a hard time expressing our condolences see a value in providing a gift at the funeral: perhaps donating flowers, setting up a meal train, etc. Grief and loss comes for us all at one point in our lives, and perhaps this universal dynamic inclines Ephron and his people to invite Abraham to use their land as if he was their own kindred: they become brothers in this common human experience.

Abraham the loyal skeptic

As for Abraham, there’s some possibilities as to his insistence to pay for Sarah’s funeral.

The most immediate possibility, perhaps, is that this is a matter of pride to Abraham. Abraham has done very well for himself and so anything that comes for free to him is beneath him. Perhaps he sees the people’s gesture as robbing him of his status, of stealing away a sacred duty. Perhaps Abraham has struggled to ask for help in the past–an argument could be made of this as we see how often Abraham attempts to rely on his own wit, strength, and means before asking for God’s assistance.

Perhaps Abraham sees the gift as dangerous, not unlike the King of Sodom’s offer made after Abraham wins a war and frees his nephew Lot. We spoke earlier how gift giving has a temptation of becoming transactional, how receiving a gift can open up a gate for favors and undesired behavior as though we are handing the gift recipient a “free pass” to our own personalities. Abraham could see this gift and become afraid of repercussions, wondering if it might lead anyone to believe that he is in alliance with anyone, that Abraham might take sides when he has only tried to live for God.

The hope, however, is that Abraham has altruistic motives in insisting on paying. It’s plausible that Abraham shows how his treasure is not an attachment, and therefore insists on hospitality and generosity to those who he calls stranger, to those who perhaps have already been good neighbors to him. It’s also possible that Abraham’s payment is a solemn duty he has to place responsibility on himself to bury his wife. While Abraham is poor in land–being essentially a nomad going from place to place and living only on the outskirts of other cities–he is rich in his treasure, and so he wants some assurance that even the land he purchases is something not borrowed but something he can call his own, a sacred space that he can visit, consecrate, and adorn as he pleases for his wife.

A side note to this point is to remind us all that spending lavishly among our dead is not necessarily a gesture of dignity and love, but sometimes a strong arm of guilt that is sold to us. When our time comes to make arrangements for our loved ones, I think it important we not be ambushed by glitz and guilt at funeral parlors, but rather go in with an accountable voice that reassures us that we need not tack on zeros to a price tag to show love to those we have lost. The only true form of love we can show after that person’s passing is through prayer and fond remembrance.

Today, consider the following:

  • In what ways have you given a gift that consciously or unconsciously had something attached to it?
  • In what ways have we appeased someone because we wanted their favor or were intimidated by them? How can we be mindful of this while still maintaining integrity?
  • Consider yourself in Abraham’s shoes. What would the greatest thing a stranger could do for you or say to you?
  • When have you refused someone else’s generosity or act of kindness out of pride? What are some ways we can foster humility?
  • How difficult is it to ask for help or accept someone else’s help? What gets in the way? What can we do to let people in?
  • In what ways can we consecrate that which we love, both the living and the dead?

Genesis 22-Consecration & Trust

Genesis 22:1-19

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring[b] all nations on earth will be blessed,[c] because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

Heartlessness or hope

Genesis 22 can be a difficult chapter for many of us given the tall order God sends to Abraham as well as the potential danger that a child’s life is put within.

While Abraham’s act of slaying his son as a sacrifice to God is a visceral hypothetical for us to imagine, we should give some pause to the thought: what truly belongs to us?

Abraham and Sarah have miraculously conceived of Isaac in a very old age. God has shown His power in being able to give life to barrenness, and in so doing He shows that life belongs to Him.

Too often we become attached and possessive towards the things we have, and strong feelings emerge from this in a negative way when those things are endangered. We tend to think of our wealth, our possessions, our flesh and blood as belonging to us. We may have manmade laws that deem these things as possessions or responsibilities, but in the end nature will show to us that all matter is a gift to us meant to be stewarded, not clung to. Though we may toil to put together aluminum, steel, and rubber together to make an automobile, those raw materials were not our making, but rather our own ingenuity manipulating the earth that was lended to us.

Such is the case for our children too, which is a sobering thing for myself to consider as a father. Though I pray that the Lord gives my child abundant years and a blessed life, I realize it is my duty to merely be a steward of this gift of life (and joy), to take care of it and do what I may in leading it into a consecrated life.

When we speak of “consecrated” we are saying “set aside.” We intend for that which is consecrated to be transformed and dignified, to have its proper belonging with its Creator and thereby intend for it to bring peace and goodness. That which is consecrated is not commercial, not profane, not clung to. By merely asking God, “how may I consecrate this to you” will we find new opportunities to give to God and to become more proper stewards of what He has given to us.

Abraham Finally Gets It

Abraham suffers a great deal of imperfection in this grand adventure he leads. On two occasions he uses his wife to protect his own life, and also commits infidelity which leads to a fatherless and husbandless household. What is interesting about these cases is that Abraham is a character susceptible to anxiety, performing some brash deeds out of fret for his own well-being. 

In this story, we see Abraham comes to an epiphany, wherein the marvels he has experienced through God are finally congruent with his own actions: God tells him he will have a great lineage and a great nation, and God also tells him to sacrifice his only son whom all this is to come through.

I think it is fair for us to assume that Abraham goes up to this place of sacrifice with his son out of great fear, out of much grief. He by no means is looking forward to this act of sacrifice. That being said, Abraham has accepted that His God has been good to him, that something will resolve the dissonance of the circumstances. He ends up proclaiming, “God will provide.” Abraham’s prior experiences of God finally meets his hope in what God will do for him, and instead of acting out of anxiety he acts on faith.

God and Man Seeing Eye To Eye

It’s also important for us to keep in mind that this act of Abraham to sacrifice his only son is not a mere test, but God inviting Abraham into a privileged place of empathy, for Abraham to begin to feel God.

Abraham’s given task of sacrificing his son is a symbolic archetype of God the Father sacrificing His Son.

The donkey with his servants is a symbol of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, the wood on Isaac’s back is a symbol of the cross, their ascent of the mountain is Christ’s walk up to Golgotha, and the relationship of Abraham sacrificing his son is a symbol of God the Father’s most gracious act of love to sacrifice His Son.

God is the only person who can truly understand how we feel at any given moment, in any given understanding. His vast understanding allows Him to know the grief we lament about, the hopelessness that we despair of, the torture we are subject to, the list goes on. Only God can know these experiences by merit of being God, whereas no other human could possibly conceive of the unique hardships we encounter, even if they have suffered similarly. In times of distress, we should rest assured God can know those big feelings.

That being said, God in this moment with Abraham extends the possibility for mankind to experience the difficult task of giving up one’s son. God invites intimacy with Abraham by giving Abraham this hard task, though God does not make Abraham see the act through, but rather allows him only to experience the anticipatory grief/loss. 

The opportunity for all of us here is to extend our experience and pain to God, to ask Him to visit us in our circumstances, to know that He can totally understand our pain, and that only in His company can such pain be navigated through.

Today, consider the following:

  • What are the things in my life that I treasure the most, that I would become very upset (mad, sad, afraid) if I lost? What assumptions do I have of these things?
  • How do I give what I have to God? How can I consecrate the things that I have?
  • What times have I acted out of anxiety instead of acting as though God was in control (or as though God would have the last say)? What times have I acted not out of anxiety but trusting God would navigate difficult paths with me, and what good things might come from this?
  • When have I reached out to God in a time of great hardship? What did I do to reach out? What expectations did I have in reaching out?

Genesis 19-The Bottomless Pit of The Mob

Genesis 19:1-22

19 The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”

“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”

But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

10 But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11 Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

12 The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the Lord against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry[a] his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the Lord is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18 But Lot said to them, “No, my lords,[b] please! 19 Your[c] servant has found favor in your[d] eyes, and you[e] have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20 Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21 He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22 But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.[f])

A preface with discretion

I suffered an awful night mare last night reminiscent to the horrific behavior displayed by the crowd from this chapter.

While I see value in penning the details of it down for the sake of properly conveying the intensity of unnerved I feel from it, I worry that sharing its details would only spread the trauma of the thing. Respectfully, for this time being, I shoulder the burden of this dream in my own psyche, and it has stolen my peace this day.

Only now am I writing my thoughts…

the abuse of the many

When the wonton appetite of an individual abuses and defiles a helpless individual, that is reprehensible, that is appalling. I don’t believe there’s a strong enough word to describe the feeling or wrongness when it is a group collectively enraptured in this appetite on an individual, feeding together on flesh like a wake of vultures.

The mob we hear of in this chapter, gathered together to unleash their sexual appetites on the two strangers in the story is like a horror story out of prison, of morally bankrupt individuals conspiring as a group, their shame and hunger not hidden but enkindled in the collective, to purge their appetite tension at the expense of a powerless soul.

In the past, I had struggled with this chapter, taken aback by the wrath of God. But after my nightmare and imagining the people in the mob coming after Lot and his household, I confess feeling more disturbed by the hypothetical incident that was to take place than the desolation itself. Perhaps I even feel a tiny bit relieved, knowing that the cities would never collectively abuse such souls again.

What I find hard to imagine in this story is how Sodom and Gomorrah got to this level. How did these cities come to the point where its citizens would gather at the sight of two strangers and openly tell Lot: we are going to have our way with your new friends, and we are all going to take part.

It is this question of “how” where I think our venture in the Human Condition ought to go.

First, we have to consider the element of the “other”. As we mentioned before, Lot chooses to dwell next to some wicked cities, but we get a sense that he lives in the outskirts, is not fully integrated just yet. This is even conveyed through the mob when they say, “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge!” (Genesis 19:9). Lot is a former foreigner, but a foreigner none the less–it’s a miracle he has not been prey of earlier. On top of this we receive absolutely no detail of the strangers’ actions or appearance that would provoke the cities to become so appetitive. From these details, we can be sure that “otherness” is a challenge all of us must surmount, to not debase the other for a utility purpose or treat one another as beasts or pieces of meat. The same way the city treats these strangers is the same way the perverse treat anonymous strippers, prostitutes, and adult actors and actresses.

Secondly, those who come to Lot’s door act not as individuals, but as a single entity, as a mob. The shameful desires of a single individual can be pragmatically curbed by social ostracizing for performing a taboo act. An individual can be arrested or publicly shamed for acting on their shameful desire. But what of a mob? If I throw a molotov cocktail in broad daylight, the public will see me as a menace and desire my arrest so I don’t harm them–more than this, I do so as an individual who can be profiled, identified, and caught. But what of a molotov or many molotov’s coming from a crowd? Any one person in the crowd that throws such a weapon is masked against the masses…so long as the masses approve of the offense. The one molotov becomes many, and then there is a wildfire of violence. The mob is a safe space of camouflage, like a herd of zebras; the zebra stripes don’t hide them from lions within the grassland, the zebra stripes hides the zebra against the herd of zebras, making it impossible for a lion to attack a single zebra.

Thirdly, depravity is born out of broken down boundaries. Any given passion burns out of control if there are not imprinted or explicit rules or boundaries. When we are disciplined, we learn where the line is, and our passion, or proclivity for selfish action, stops at the line. But if the line is observed to be blurry, if the line seemingly isn’t being watched by others, or if others can tell us that the line has moved, then we step over it. There were many little “yesses” that these two cities said along the way of their wickedness to get to the point that all the men would descend upon two strangers to purge their appetites. These people knew no rules to hold them back, perhaps they even understood that they were already wicked, powerful, capable of taking what they wanted without reproach. It is not unsimilar to the prisoners who gang up on a helpless inmate, and collectively abuse that one inmate.

Never apologize to the mob

Perhaps the most common sentiment that makes this chapter of Genesis so disliked is Lot’s response tot he men who come knocking on his door. Lot sees the appetite of the city, and he folds.

We cringe hearing how Lot would rather the city take his daughters instead, to have their way with them rather the two strangers. How could he do that to his own flesh and blood? How could he make victims of his own beloved girls?

There is reasoning behind Lot’s counteroffer, but we need not justify Lot’s counteroffer. It’s no coincidence that this chapter comes after the hospitality of Abraham, seeing how properly the visitors are treated in Abraham’s company, in Abraham’s land. While Lot also values this virtue of hospitality, we see the total opposite sentiment from the two cities. Abraham and Lot revere their visitors and consider hosting “the other” as a rich blessing, a privilege. The city, however, abandons this ancient precept of hospitality, desiring abuse, violence, and defilement.

Again, Lot’s sensitivity to hospitality does not defend the counteroffer he makes to the crowd. Lot examples faithlessness and cowardice in his words. After seeing all that God has done for him, he decides not to submit before the power of God, but to submit before the mob’s overpowering lust. Lot offers his daughters before he offers his own life, futile as his last stand might be.

Lot’s story is a sad one, marred by weakness. Not only does he attempt to weasel out of compromise at the cost of two innocent girls, later on, when he and his family escape the city, begs the angels to not make them go into the mountains but rather into another nearby city for refuge. Lot has seen these visitors strike the cruel men blind and has been promised safety, and he continues to falter, trusting not in his own faith or his power in others.

Lot’s story has two-fold importance. First, Lot shows us how important it is to example faith and courage in the face of adversity. His ancestor Noah had stood against a flood of wickedness from his fellow man and survived a flood that covered the earth, trusting in God’s power. We see Lot beholding marvels from God and despite that fold in his confidence, caving to the flood of the city rather than calling upon His God and seeking refuge for his beloved in an Ark. We must know what our Ark and refuge is, we must labor to build it up like Noah, and we must exercise our thoughts and heart on relying on it much like a child who always knows how to run back to its parent. We must brave the storm and call upon our God.

Secondly, we should never apologize to the mob. As we illustrated before, a mob mentality is the thing of abuse, of appetite, of tyranny, of destitute wickedness. Mobs are not entities of reason, but rather are forces of emotion empowered by a collection of bodies. A mob devours when it sees weakness. It does not hesitate when its opposition caves. Apologizing to the mob is impossible, for a true apology or request of forgiveness (which in Greek roughly translates to co-dwell) involves a devouring of the person, not a co-dwelling of peace.

It is better for us to call upon a higher power than the mob, to know the power behind our back is the creator of any collection of individuals, His Holiness greater than the tidal wave of any collective passion or sin. We are to know our God stands at our back, to put work into strengthening our Ark, establish our confidence in these, and be ready to remove ourselves and put ourselves into the mountain, a secluded place removed of need or wickedness, the symbolic manifestation of drawing nearer to God through a spiritual ascent of asceticism and prayer.

Today, consider the following:

  • What mob have you encountered? What did it want or what was fueling it? What did you do in response to it?
  • What mob have you (consciously or unconsciously) been part of? How did you become part of it? What did you want within that entity?
  • What is considered “other” to you? What challenges do you face when dealing with the other? How might these challenges be surmounted?
  • What boundaries do you find yourself pushing? What boundaries do you find others pushing on you?
  • When have you treated someone less than human? What factors contributed to this treatment?

Genesis 18-The Art of Hospitality

Genesis 18:1-15

The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. 2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

3 He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. 4 Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. 5 Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[b] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 7 Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. 8 He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

9 “Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. 10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

The Infinite Depth of the Stranger

This chapter of Genesis is quite famously coined the “Hospitality of Abraham”. It is a beautiful account of Abraham beholding the triune God, and it is also a sobering message to us all of the importance of entertaining guests.

Hospitality doesn’t seem to be all that relative of a word in our modern, Western context. When someone comes from abroad, we tend to struggle to connect with them. When there is someone new moving to our neighborhood, we tend to scope them out first before knocking on their door, introducing ourselves to them, and giving them a housewarming gift. 

This is reservation we have of receiving the stranger namely has to do with our sensitivity towards change and our fear of the unknown. Whether at school, at work, at church, or at a party, we tend to gravitate towards our own, stay within the comforts of the people we are acquainted with, even if they are unpleasant because at least there are no surprises from them. Approaching a stranger in any of these gatherings is the bold gesture of the brave ranger navigating into an uncharted forest. 

A new person is full of potentiality, and with that potentiality comes a great deal of imagined danger. We tend to not see someone new and think, “I definitely will find friendship in them!” We tend to wonder if they think our introduction is too forward, or if when we say our name they’ll answer, “yeah, I already met you.” Perhaps the stranger will speak about an uncomfortable topic such as politics or religion, or worse, we’ll struggle to find anything to talk to them about. Perhaps the opposite happens, and we find that the person is rather imposing, clingy, and hard to get to stop talking, placing us in the difficult position to be rude and say, “I have to go.”

Roadblocks For Connection

While it might be tempting to say, “hospitality is for extroverts, not introverts” I would argue that even extroverts find difficulty in this art of hospitality. Extroverts certainly find energy from speaking with others and meeting new people, though this doesn’t mean that every extrovert doesn’t see someone new and has possible prejudices and discerns whether or not that person seems worthwhile to engage with. More than this, an extrovert may start the conversation, but perhaps make the conversation about themselves, or takes only a survey of that person’s superficial interests and identity.

As an introvert, I can say I’m guilty of many of these plights of the extrovert. Sometimes a scowl or even the clothing a person wears pushes me away from risking to get to know a stranger, and sometimes I remain in the shallow end of conversation as I’m too afraid to get locked into a long story or dragged into a conversation in which I’ll end up disagreeing with the other person. But as an introvert, I realize too my energy does not come from meeting new people. That being said, when we introverts do push ourselves to meet others–or rather circumstances push us in this direction–we prefer to go deep with that person, to talk about woes and mysteries, stories and controversies. 

Hospitality takes risk, but it also takes curiosity. Going back to the uncharted forest analogy, the new person who is a wilderness could possess poisonous snakes and ravaging bears hidden within their personality. That being said, there might be buried gold in their heart, refreshing rivers of stories, and a tranquil place one can rest in and be vulnerable in. Curiosity of the other can help us overcome our fear and initial prejudices of that person, piercing through their RBF face and finding something in common or fascinating about their life or work. Of course, we risk something as we extend our hand to be shaken. We can be rejected or we can ever regret doing so. That being said, without that risk being taken we won’t know who/what we are missing.

The Tent and the offering

The two other pieces of hospitality we see from this story is the theme of sacrifice as well as the theme of invitation.

To be hospitable, we have to know it will come at a cost. We will spend money to entertain that person, to set forth a great meal. Making that great meal will take energy and planning and worrying on our end, and entertaining also means sacrificing our own time of rest and privacy, giving space for the other to occupy our attention. When we listen to someone who is lonely, they will spend our time for us…and yet sometimes all they need is someone to be in their presence listening to them.

The other piece in this is invitation, a drawing of the other into our own space. This is a risky move, and I can say I’ve fallen short of entertaining those I know I ought to bring into my own home. We are afraid, perhaps, of having someone else see our home, or that they will impose on a boundary we feel uncomfortable reinforcing. Perhaps they will steal from us. Perhaps they will remember where we live and come unannounced. Perhaps we will get into a fight with them and we won’t know how to ask them to leave. 

Another hesitation we sometimes have of inviting others into our home is our fear of being judged for the state of our home. Perhaps our home is uninviting with its clutter, or the contrary, we set the standard for immaculate cleanliness so high that it is better that NOBODY comes and scuffs up our neatness. Cultivating a mentality of hospitality does press a homeowner towards personal responsibility for their own space, of keeping things clean, and of also being able to manage personal neuroticisms of things we tend to be compulsively careful of. But what is wonderful about this spirit of hospitality in one’s own home is that the host is able to reveal themselves through their home, show a part of their own heart and soul to the other. The guest will see pictures and perhaps ask about fond memories. They will see trophies, heirlooms, items of interest that speak to the host’s soul that perhaps cannot be discerned from the surface. Perhaps there is an ability to witness in hospitality, showing one’s collection of Scripture and faith-based literature, a shrine of icons and holy items of significance that someone might inquire about.

Hospitality is an art we tend not to think of, and yet it’s a rather fun way of showing one’s heart to others. The guest needs only be invited, fed, taken care of, and made comfortable. The host actually possesses quite a bit of opportunity to start and control the conversation, asking the guest questions they’re curious about and show off their own interests and memories through a tour of the home. 

But what is even greater about hospitality is that this art extended to the stranger has a divine component to it. In many ancient cultures, hospitality (taking care of the foreigner) was considered a sacred duty for many reasons. Not only could the foreigner be royalty in disguise from a distant and powerful country, but even more frightening, the foreigner could be a god, an angel, a spirit with great power. Certainly, in Abraham’s case, we see how there is an opportunity for us to serve God through serving the stranger, to extending care and curiosity to the person we know so little about. St. Paul echoes this, advising us that when we give hospitality to strangers we at times entertain angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).

It certainly is a risky thing to show hospitality, whether it is making a new person at school, the workplace, or at our place of worship welcome, or inviting a stranger into our home. I confess, bringing someone who I know is homeless into my home requires a big leap of faith.

That being said, as Abraham shows us, profound truth and abundant blessings occur in this act of hospitality. Abraham shows us that through hospitality we get to experience in an intimate manner the person of God, and at the end of the encounter, we will be blessed in return in the future.

Today, consider the following:

  • When you meet someone new, what is your initial reaction? What could be a positive reaction we make to someone we don’t recognize?
  • Consider you are sharing a row on an airplane, sitting next to someone on the bus or train, or even sharing an uber: what might stop you from starting a conversation with that person? What risks do you take in so doing? How might you start a conversation in the first place to foster curiosity of the other?
  • In your place of socializing (work, school, church, a party) who is on the fringes? 
  • What is your home like? Is it hospitalibe? Do you have many people over? If not, what gets in the way? What does your house say about you?

Genesis 17-Reader Discretion Advised

Genesis 17:1-14

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram[b]; your name will be Abraham,[c] for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

Focusing On the Symbol And Not The Flesh

I was tempted to skip this chapter entirely, not merely because we broach the subject of circumcision, but because there’s not much else that happens here except this promise extended to Abraham.

That being said, the covenant of circumcision we might see as a rather strange gesture that we either overlook or choose to ignore. And although we don’t really tend to spend time talking about this covenant, I think we can draw some symbolic conclusions of the gesture. I say this because I find it hard to believe that God would desire mutilation of Abraham for the sake of the mutilation itself. Rather, the gesture, although on its surface perhaps grotesque, I believe carries some symbolic weight.

Just for this reading we will venture away from speaking to the human condition and spend some time on symbolism. Because of this, this will also be a shorter read.

The nature of circumcision is certainly adult in nature, so this topic is best reserved for a mature audience.

Cast Off

When we talk about circumcision, it’s perhaps easier to understand it as we consider St. Paul’s words on being circumcised not in the flesh, but in the heart.

St. Paul refers here to the importance of a “hardness of heart” being cut off, the superficial layer being discarded. This harkens to a kind of “shedding of skin” gesture, a sign of renewal. Abraham has had made some poor decisions before, but now he is asked to show his recommitment to God through this act of circumcision. And interestingly, Abraham has less blunders here on out.

If we think of reptiles for a moment, we get an apt image of a spiritual circumcision. A reptile sheds its skin because a reptile continually grows. Reptiles never stop growing, and they constantly shed their skin to give way for more growth. This image serves us to remind us of the need to start over, to cast off our old behaviors and tendencies, to recognize our constant need of growth, and to appear new through our action.

Not only are we encouraged to discard old habits, behaviors, and proclivities, but we see through this covenant act that there is likely to be pain involved when we leave that unnecessary part of ourselves behind. Giving up an addiction, coping mechanism, or pattern of behavior will cause pain, but this is all part of that casting off of the old self.


The act of circumcision is also a mark for Abraham to remember.

In Christianity, Baptism and Confession are our marks of renewal, but there’s not a whole lot of physical manifestation of this. At best, we might remember the sacraments we engage in, but in times of distress or temptation conjuring up those memories and feelings might prove difficult.

Abraham is given a task to mark his body. This is not unlike a scar that reminds a soldier of a battle won or lost. Abraham is to remember the old self that died and to remember how he survived by God’s grace, but this new scar upon his body. The marking hopefully reminds Abraham of his sins that he needs to stay away from and also remind him of the new person he is called to become.

Perhaps even more appropriate is that Abraham has engaged in body modification to mark a “rite of passage”. It’s not uncommon in other civilizations to see how body modification is a kind of initiation of a child into adulthood. We see this continue today as often 18 year olds will go to a tattoo parlor to mark their first day as an adult. Abraham, ironically, is reaching 100 years old, but this is a testimony that not only his repentance and initiation into a life with God but ours too can come at any age. It’s never too late to repent, not even on our death beds.


The nature of circumcision also encompasses the theme of vulnerability.

What is lost in circumcision is protection for the male, and the symbolic gesture of this vulnerability for the male is significant.

We Males can have a hard time of letting down our guard, of opening up to others, asking for help, and conceding our weakness. Women can struggle here too.

Abraham has walked his life with wavering trust in God, with reservations of God’s plan, without including Him much when it came to the famine in Egypt or his wife’s barrenness. Abraham takes his strife on his own shoulders most of the time, not considering that God’s speaking to him is an invitation for synergy.


Lastly, the act of circumcision is a private one, a covenant not meant to be boasted of. There is nothing to be proud of this act.

This marking of the covenant likely was to prevent Abraham and Israel from becoming too air headed about their privileged place with God. Even St. Paul speaks to the vanity and “boasting” that is a temptation of the Jewish law, commenting how there is nothing to boast of circumcision, but that one should boast in Christ and boast in the Lord.

All praise is due to God, not to His followers, and so Abraham’s new marking is not something that socially will be accepted to be broadcast. Instead, Abraham is given a marking that reminds him that his covenant with God is personal and requires some introspective work. Further, God reminds us through this private marking His value on humility.

Today, consider the following:

  • What marked my coming to age? What marked my coming to faith? What reminders do I have to keep me anchored in difficult times or times of temptation?
  • How vulnerable am I with God? How vulnerable am I with others? Where do I need to grow in relying on my support?
  • How often do I talk about myself, focus on myself, or acknowledge my own accomplishments (or even my own suffering)? What behavior do I engage in which places the attention on me and not on others or on God?
  • What are my “rough edges” and who can help me identify them? How might I “shed off” old behaviors and growing edges?

Genesis 16 – Blame, Infidelity, and Responsibility

Genesis 16:1-6

16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

Cringey Story

Here we are, at perhaps one of the most uncomfortable chapters of Genesis. 

This chapter of Genesis can sometimes come as a stumbling block for us reading it, wondering how on earth the foundation of Israel’s future, God’s chosen people, could come from an irresponsible and faithless couple like Abraham and Sarai. 

And while this story teaches us a good lesson on our own behavior, it also reassures us who have grossly mistepped, offended, and messed up that God still intends to use us despite our blunders.

If Abraham and Sarai were called AFTER this incident with Hagar, we might have written the story off as barbaric, pagan, an example of those times, and without any excuse because there existed no accountability. But Abraham’s infidelity and Sarai’s twisted and frankly toxic regard towards Hagar can still be redeemed. The two have been called to a higher standard, and the two have seriously hurt this poor girl. The two are God’s intended great nation, and they are imperfect.

Thus, what looks at first like a stumbling block is actually reassurance that even though we are called to a higher standard and continue to sin, that God still intends for us repentance and through that repentance comes greatness. We are not intended to be black-listed, shamed, untouchables for our sins. Despite how grievously we sin, there is hope that God will make something great from us.

Boundaries, Blame, and Faithfulness

The story we read here is one of responsibility, of two parties, failing to own up to their faithlessness and selfish acts.

To begin, it’s interesting that the idea of having an heir is not Abraham’s idea, but rather put forth by Sarai. All the promises we have read about thus far have been between God and Abraham. Obviously, Sarai has reason to be thrilled for her husband, yet it’s hard to imagine she would risk her own status and sense of security for the sake of Abraham achieving this promise through another woman. Perhaps a sliver of altruism might come through for Sarai to be happy for Abraham meeting this covenant through another woman. Even so, this is a stretch considering what the couple has gone through already and how faithfulness was already defended by God in Egypt.

The first mistake Sarai made in failing to live up to her responsibility was to lax the boundaries of her marriage, to give into Abraham’s anxiety–and perhaps even his lust–by allowing him to sleep with another woman. This speaks to the responsibility of not just any wife, but any spouse, that one partner keeps the other honest and the walls of that union intact. We’ve already seen how devastating a temptation envy can be, and the only way Sarai and Abraham can abate that beast is by keeping the walls of their marriage strong. Any polyamorous union is fated to perish, much like a cell wall with weakened integrity, its parts drifting off without any utility for the whole, all the while inviting parasites and wastes to dwell in the functioning organism.

But there is a much more grave mistake Sarai makes after failing to take responsibility for her marriage and her husband: she forsakes any blame or part in the fallout that occurs. Sarai notices Hagar begins to resent her, which perhaps speaks to Hagar realizing there is a power struggle emerged from this new relationship given Sarai cannot bear Abraham a son. Hagar being the hired hands of Sarai begins to change that dynamic in her behavior, and Sarai goes to Abraham…not with regret or repentance, but with blame.

Sarai becomes indignant instead of accepting responsibility for herself, and such is the case for us too often. Like Sarai, we often see mistreatment we receive from others as a crime of others to rectify rather than give any consideration as to what we contribute to the relationship or the dynamic. Perhaps by failing to reinforce boundaries or establish some respect for ourselves we allow others to walk all over us, give “yes” to things we ought not to on a pretense of being “nice”.

But Abraham is not off the hook either. Abraham may not have “worldly” evidence that God will fulfill the covenant of bringing Abraham a son to make a nation out of, but Abraham has seen God’s power more than a handful of times before through the visions and perilous adventures. Abraham receives temptation from his wife–not unlike Adam–and instead of being responsible back to Sarai and to God–the God who supports monogamy–, he allows this temptation to prey upon his anxiety and perhaps even on his lust.

Abraham suffers the same sin as Sarai in failing to be responsible in his marriage, in correcting his wife’s anxiety, and staying faithful to her. But the different sin of responsibility that Abraham commits is not being responsible back to God, forsaking all the promise and goodness he received before because one covenant is not happening on his timetable.

Our Role As The Married couple

To summarize, we all at times falter in our conviction and our boundaries when stress overcomes us. We begin to question the utility or legitimacy of promises we made with ourselves or with others, and faithfulness is tested. Abraham and Sarai suffer from infidelity on account of disappointment, on account of their expectations of “the good life” being less than perfect. This disappointment and failed expectations is the crumbling foundation of too many marriages today, resulting in infidelity and blame. 

In addition, we too often cast blame without giving consideration to what we contribute to a situation ourselves. We are like Sarai who with such a short memory lashes out at Abraham for sleeping with Hagar, even though she gave her approval of this shameful deed. We ought to be mindful not just of the “yes” we give to others explicitly or implicitly, but we ought to be mindful of what behaviors we contribute to any resentment or conflict in our own relationships.

Today, consider the following

  • What are some parts of my life I don’t trust God with (that I don’t go to Him in prayer with)? What are some parts of my life I don’t trust others with?
  • What are some of the great ways God has protected me, been faithful to me, good to me?
  • Who do I find myself blaming the most or angry the most? What might I contribute in that relationship? What might I be able to change?
  • When do I find myself saying “yes” to something when I really want to say “no”? How can I keep myself honest?
  • Faithful can carry a connotation of steadfastness or reliability. In what ways am I faithful? In what ways am I not so faithful? To whom am I faithful? Where is there room to grow here? How can I increase in this trait with others?

Genesis 15: Living In The Fog of Uncertainty

Genesis 15:6-16

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

The Paralysis of Uncertainty

Every crossroad is embedded with a cross. We all experience forks in the road, tough decisions required of us that seemingly determine the rest of our lives. What’s worse is that sometimes a crossroad or fork isn’t the best way to describe it, because where the road splits actually ends up being a sixteen exit ramps going in different cardinal directions. Having many choices may at face value seem like freedom, but ask someone who doesn’t regularly do the grocery shopping to pick out one brand of toothpaste at the store and they will quickly find out that unless they randomly choose the first that they see, the choice is not so simple.

Coupled with this is the uncertainty of what lays down the road of any particular path. Does one path lead into a pit or valley? How does each path fair should a storm blow over in our journey? We weigh our options too by worrying about how paths will serve us, help us to survive or cope with the difficulties of life.

Choices and the anxieties of life coupled together have rocked me at different times in my own life.

In my years of high school, my future was something I had a great curiosity about–who would I be in 10/20 years, what would I have accomplished, what would my family look like? Still, this curiosity came with a billowing black cloud of uncertainty, of difficulty discerning important things such as which school do I go to, who do I date, what career path do I choose? I almost felt as though someone directly telling me what to do would have been liberating, that not having to confront choice and with it risk a lifetime of regret would have absolved me of any poor decision. Even today I find myself at a crossroad of career paths which has been taxing.

Coupled with this was a gloomy view of how I saw and still see the trajectory of the world. I had a bleak view of human existence in high school, a suspicion that all things would come to an end rather quickly, that all-out war if not the literal apocalypse would befall us; liberating as this might have been to absolve me of making decisions, it made me consider if making any choices at all were futile and if I shouldn’t be more concerned about my survival. So too today, seeing how divided our world is I worry for my family’s well-being and weigh my options with a gloomy view of the future. Amid such bleakness, what is worth endeavoring, adding to my plate, and working towards if all things are falling apart into entropy?

This fog of choices and the unrest we feel just watching the news or going on social media extends out even further, however. We experience the fog in grief when we’ve lost someone so dear to us, forced to wonder who else we might lose and how we might go forward through that loss or anticipatory loss. We experience the fog too in illness, receiving a certain diagnosis that could affect our finances, our careers, our relationships, a wide variety of subjects.

These are crossroads and billows of fog that slow us down, that slows if not kills our momentum. Why move forward in anything when as we fumble through the fog we may trip or injure ourselves? Why choose any path when we cannot see where it leads, without any promise of the destination or the pitstops that we encounter upon it?

When A Fog Becomes An Abyss

This crippling anxiety is communicated in this chapter of Genesis. Abraham may seem like a successful figure by now, having taken the spoils of Egypt and survived a famine, having won his first battle and rescued his nephew Lot. Despite these accomplishments, Abraham has encountered great hardship, and perhaps surviving famine and war have not provided him with any comfort, but rather told him that the only thing that surely awaits for him is further trial. God has been good to him, and yet Abraham hasn’t a plan or let’s say worldly assurance that this great nation will in fact manifest, that Abraham will in fact have a lineage to be proud of.

Abraham perhaps would like a break from the trials, to know he can have some stability as he endeavors towards fatherhood. And even so, Abraham tells God in his prayer, “you have given me no offspring” implying that childlessness hasn’t been for a lack of trying, but rather that he and his wife have experienced infertility.

The response that Abraham, again, is an assurance is not worldly proof, but a spoken word of something that has not yet happened. Even worse, Abraham receives a destitute vision. 

We read that Abraham is overcome by a dread darkness and that God speaks to him the truth that his descendants will be slaves for centuries. This is all coupled with an expectation of his descendants breaking free of bondage, of coming to prosperity, and for Abraham to reach a good age and to die in peace.

Still, Abraham must be wrestling with doubt and overcome by the grim vision and the disheartening news that his descendants will see multiple generations of hardship and abuse.

And yet Abraham, as we shall see, continues his journey. He does not walk away from God’s promise jaded or burned out. Abraham does certainly falter in the next chapter, but we will see how his faithfulness is restored and how he continues to sacrifice to God and continues to do as God commands. 

Brave the World

Many of us find ourselves in Abraham’s shoes from this chapter. We find ourselves having done hard things, performed thankless deeds and wonders, and remain fruitless. We toil hard, we do right by God and by our neighbor, and our long-requested petitions are met with no answer, or perhaps the answer of “wait”. Even so, any assurance we might receive that a prayer will be answered later, that our labors will bear fruit later, we might receive a kind of similar dark vision as Abraham, grim knowledge that those ahead of us will inherit a mess along the way.

Ultimately, however, our attention cannot be focused solely on the here and now. “Easier said than done,” right?

When we hit our thumb with a hammer, we are not reminiscing of childhood or dreamily contemplating the possibilities of our future. We are a giant thumb, throbbing, in pain. We are acutely tuned into the present, and that is what the pain of grief, the burn of anxiety does to us. Even if we should worry about the future, that worry is really embedded in the here and now of our thoughts. It is our duty to reach past the future of uncertainty that all things will perish, and to take hold of the truth that something greater awaits for all of us should we do all that is asked of us, should we trust in God.

We may each die with a great deal of disappointment, perhaps even regret. We may feel we haven’t accomplished everything, have not seen the bliss of children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, or crossed everything off our bucket list. So too Abraham dies without seeing the glory of Israel–as does Moses–and many of these important figures of the Old Testament will have gone their whole lives without seeing the Messiah, the Lord, the Son of God in the flesh. The Apostles will not have seen the glory of the Church surviving thousands of years later.

And yet here we are. Things may not be perfect or glamorous, but there is glory waiting for all of us, marvels that we cannot begin to comprehend both in the future of the earth and in our intended lives in paradise. 

It takes special work for us to incline our hearts and minds out of that which is perishable all around us, and to remind ourselves of the future selves we are destined to grow into, the future we are to lay out to those we call children and disciples, and the eternal life that awaits all of us.

Today, consider the following:

  • What are some tough decisions I find hard to make that will have a great impact on myself or others? Write these down, take them to prayer every day.
  • What are anxieties I have of the future? Where can I turn my attention to so that these anxieties don’t dictate my life, action, and choices?
  • Who are my “children” or “disciples”, either literal or metaphorical? What do I need to change in my life to lay a good foundation for them? 
  • How often have I thought on my own impending death? What do such thoughts provoke me to change in my life?