This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
31 Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there.32The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.
The Call of Abram
12Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’* 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan,6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak* of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.7Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring* I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.8From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord.
This story includes memory of the ancestors of Israel as nomads, which may explain their theological insight that God is not limited to set places, such as the great temples of kings, but travels with his people. This conviction runs through the whole bible. We see it for exmple in Jesus’ description of himself as the “way”. When we think of our human life as a journey, we can be open to discovering God as our travelling companion. The language of pilgrimage rests on the same conviction, with the additional faith that something special awaits us at the end of the road. In the context of the Genesis story, the calling of Abraham comes as the creative solution to God’s problem of how to deal with his rebellious creature, humanity. He has tried expulsion, cursing and flood, and these have not worked. Now he chooses persuasion. He persuades Abraham to journey to a new land to become a new people by whom all humanity will be blessed. The author of course is writing from the perspective of an Isarel settled in the land of promise, ruled by kings and already finding God’s expectations a bit heavy. The author insists that these expectations are embedded in the ancient history of his people and in fact gave birth to his people. Israel is not Israel if it is not the instrument of God’s blessing to humanity. Before this point in Genesis, God has been depicted as trying unsucessfully to stop the flow of human history as it rushes towards evil. Now in this event God commits himself to human history, understanding that He can’t work on human beings from the outside but must, in a much more intimate way, become their God. Abraham responds to God with a sober trust -he does what he’s told- which remains the Biblical ideal of faith. There is no spectacular vision or emotional conversion experience, just an old man with a lot to lose setting out on a risky adventure , believing it leads to blessing for himself and others.
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”;18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet.20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you* say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,* the one who is speaking to you.’
When the conversation gets personal, the woman begins to talk religion and mentions the religious divisions between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus tells her to get real: God is not an item in the world who can be located in particular place. God is “Spirit”, that is life -that-is-not-material, and “truth”, that is, unveiled reality. God can only be worshipped by those who have stopped trying to confine God in religious categories and customs and are ready to meet God’s disturbing otherness with their own naked humanity. In this adventure we need to be guided by an even greater traveller than Abraham. Jesus says to the woman, ” I am he, the one who is speaking with you.” In their very different ways both Abraham and the Samaritan woman place their trust in something inexplicable and life-changing: Abraham in a journey that will change him; the Samaritan in a material man who claims to be the source of eternal truth. Both stories encourage the reader to meet the God who changes lives.