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This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily reading along with aheadline from world news


Political hospitality

Political hospitality

Genesis 18:1-16

Good News Translation (GNT)

A Son Is Promised to Abraham

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham at the sacred trees of Mamre. As Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent during the hottest part of the day, he looked up and saw three men standing there. As soon as he saw them, he ran out to meet them. Bowing down with his face touching the ground, he said, “Sirs, please do not pass by my home without stopping; I am here to serve you. Let me bring some water for you to wash your feet; you can rest here beneath this tree. I will also bring a bit of food; it will give you strength to continue your journey. You have honored me by coming to my home, so let me serve you.”

They replied, “Thank you; we accept.”

Abraham hurried into the tent and said to Sarah, “Quick, take a sack of your best flour, and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and picked out a calf that was tender and fat, and gave it to a servant, who hurried to get it ready. He took some cream, some milk, and the meat, and set the food before the men. There under the tree he served them himself, and they ate.

Then they asked him, “Where is your wife Sarah?”

“She is there in the tent,” he answered.

10 One of them said, “Nine months from now[a] I will come back, and your wife Sarah will have a son.”

Sarah was behind him, at the door of the tent, listening. 11 Abraham and Sarah were very old, and Sarah had stopped having her monthly periods. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself and said, “Now that I am old and worn out, can I still enjoy sex? And besides, my husband is old too.”

13 Then the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Can I really have a child when I am so old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? As I said, nine months from now I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Because Sarah was afraid, she denied it. “I didn’t laugh,” she said.

“Yes, you did,” he replied. “You laughed.”



This story has already been anticipated in the previous chapter which gives a more conventional account of the promise of a child. Here it begins with Abraham welcoming three travellers without any knowledge of who they are. He offers generous desert hospitality. The folk-tale of the VIP-God or King- visiting incognito to see what reception he gets is well-known. Abraham passes the test with his hospitable energy. Then the travellers begin to reveal their true identity by asking, in a way that ordinary travellers would never have dared, about their host’s wife. When the visitor promises a son for Sarah, Abraham’s reaction is passed over for Sarah’s who has concealed herself at the door of the tent to listen. 

Again this is a folk-tale motif, that of the hidden listener who finds herself the subject of conversation. The detail of Sarah’s thought is unusual in the Bible but not so unusual it warrants the deduction that the narrator is female, as some have suggested. The mention of female enjoyment of sex is genuinely unusual, but is also clearly supposed in the Song of Songs. These details make Sarah come alive as a woman. 

Now that Sarah has given herself away, the visitors do so also. Now Abraham and Sarah know they are dealing with the Lord, for whom nothing is impossible, although He does not create a child out of nothing but is content to follow more or less) the way of nature: “In nine months I will return…..”

Sarah thinks her laughter may have been offensive and therefore denies it, but the Lord is pleased with her earthy scepticism and insists upon her laughter. Already the child Isaac (meaning “he laughs”) is present to God. 

The story presents a miracle but not one which denies the earth and its life. Rather, human beings and earthly processes are “persuaded” to co-operate with God’s purpose, which is to bring blessing to all families. It is a very delicate thing. An outsider perhaps would see no “supernatural” intervention. Nor does God overrule human wills but solicits their co-operation by his promise. The theology of the “God” revealed in the Genesis narrative has become much more subtle. God is committed to the world he has created n spite of its imperfections; he will not destroy it not alter it by force. Therefore he needs the trust and cooperation of human beings, which is what he gets from Abraham and Sarah.angels promise

This profound theology is not superseded by Jesus Messiah, but rather brought to a surprising and beautiful completion.

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