This blog provides a meditation on the episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
GENESIS 14: 11-24
1So the enemy took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way;12they also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who lived in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. 13 Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks* of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner; these were allies of Abram.14When Abram heard that his nephew had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.15He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and routed them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus.16Then he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his nephew Lot with his goods, and the women and the people
17 After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).18And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.*19He blessed him and said,
‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High,* maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,* who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’
And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.21Then the king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the people, but take the goods for yourself.’22But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the Lord, God Most High,* maker of heaven and earth,23that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, “I have made Abram rich.”24I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share.’
There are many interesting events in this ancient story. Abram is here presented as a competent warrior, ready to rescue his nephew Lot and his fellow citizens of Sodom from their enemies. Even when he wins his battle and takes booty from the defeated army, he shares it with the King of Sodom and with his own allies. He wants it to be known that he was fighting for the life of his nephew and not for the pleasure of war or booty. This moderation is a sign of Abram’s wisdom and faith. Almost from nowhere Melchizedek the King who is a priest of the most high God comes and shares a sacred meal with Abram and gives him his blessing, indicating that God has blessed him with this victory. The story emphasises that even amongst the old clans of the land, Abraham, the progenitor of Israel, was honoured as a man of God, because of his wisdom and moderation.
46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum.47When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.48Then Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’49The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my little boy dies.’50Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.51As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive.52So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.’53The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he himself believed, along with his whole household.54Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
John and the other gospel writers think that God’s love was opened to people through Jesus’ ministry. There’s not much point in asking how much history lies behind the stories of healing, such as this one: they tell us simply that God’s love is made available to trusting people through Jesus’ ministry. Here the sign of the man’s total trust in Jesus is his readiness to return home without Jesus accompanying him in person. In a sense there is no miracle described. A child is ill; his parent goes to see Jesus; he comes back home; the child is well. The father ascribes the cure to Jesus. When people recover health through the modern medicine, we should equally acribe the cure to God’s love. The problem arises when the child is not healed. It is important to say that just as there were many children in Israel not healed by Jesus, so there are now, because God entrusts his healing love to humanity-the humanity of Jesus, the humanity of medical staff, the humanity of our own bodies. God will not alter our bodies by supernatural means. Sometimes cures are surprising-but they always come from the human body, human skill, human faith. But what about God’s love? Out of love, God permits his creation freedom, right down to behaviour of the cells in our bodies. Out of love for his creation he permits randomness, accident and dis-ease. This is difficult territory but we must not have a doctrine of healing which suggests that if you’re not healed you don’t have enough faith. My mother was a woman of extraordinary faith and goodness and she died from Alzheimer’s. At the same time we must be able to celebrate a cure as miraculous, that is, as “goodness beyond our expectations”, which is, I guess, as useful a definition of God as any. My readers will sense that I’m trying to keep a difficult balance on an issue where many come down on one side or another-atheists denying miracle, believers denying natural causation.