This blog at present gives a daily meditation on te book of Genesis and the Gospel of mark. The series began on 1st January 2015 and can be accessed from my archives. The headline keeps me in touch with the world.
GENESIS 17: 23 – 18: 15
Avraham took Yishmael his son and al those born in his house and all those bought with his money
all the males among Avraham’s household people
and circumcised the flesh of their foreskinns on that same day, as God had spoke to him.
Araham was ninety-nine yars old when he had the flesh of his foreskin circumcised.
On that same day,
were circumcised Avraham and Yishmael his son,
and all his household people whether house-born or money-bought for a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
And YHWH was seen by him by the oaks of Mamre,
as he was sitting in the entrance to his tent at the heat of the day,
he lifted up his eyes and saw:
Look, three men standing over against him.
When he saw them, he ran to meet them from the entrance of hs tent, and bowed his face to the earth and said:
If have found favour in you eyes,
pray do not pass by your servant!
Pray let a little water be fetched, then wash your feet and incline under the tree:
let me fetch you a bit of bread, that you may refresh your hearts
them afterward you may pass on-
for you have, after all, passed your servant’s way.
Do thus, as you have spoken.
Avraham hastened from his tent to Sara and said:
Make haste! Three measures of choice flour! Knead it, make bread-cakes!
Avraham ran to the oxen he fetched a young ox, tender and fine, and gave it to a aserving lad that he might make it ready,
and placed it before them.
Now he stood over them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him:
Where is Sara your wife?
Here in the tent.
Now he said to him
I will return, yes, return to you when time revives
and your wife Sara will have a son!
Now Sara was listening at the entrance to the tent which was behind him.
Avraham and Sara were old, advanced in years,
and the way of women had ceased for Sara.
Sara laughed within herself, saying:
After I have become worn, is there to be pleasure for me? And my lord is old!
And YHWH said to Avraham:
Now why does Sara laugh and say, shall I really give birth, now that I am old?
Is anything beyond YHWH?
At that set time I will return to you, when time revives, and Sara will have a son.
Sara pretended otherwise saying: No I did not laugh,
for she was afraid.
But he said:
No, indeed you laughed.
In the fashion of the Genesis author this passage doubles with the content of chapter 17, which concludes with the record of Avraham’s completion of the circumcision covenant with God. That ceremony is the sign that the conception of children is not solely a human matter.
Now the announcement of a child for Avraham and Sara is made again, this time with a more equal focus on Sara. The story takes the folk-tale form of “giving hospitality to strangers”, where often the stranger is even more strange than the host realises. In this case, Avraham offers generous hospitality without any indication that he “sees” YHWH in his visitors. But the audience has been told by the author. Descriptions of hospitality are frequent in ancient literature. For example the Odyssey, which may have been composed about the same time as Genesis, abounds in them. The reflect for a later generation the graciousness of older ways.
The audience is gradually made to understand that the visitors are YHWH: they receive the hospitality of the household on behalf of YHWH and they speak his word to Avraham and Sara. In this case it is Sara’s reaction which is made important. Like Avraham, she laughs, specifically in her case, at the thought that she may once more have pleasure in sex. This sly characterisation of Sarah is one of the reasons why some scholars have suggested that the author is a woman. I don’t think it’s a very strong reason, but it does point to the quiet humour of the author.
The promise that the child will be born when YHWH returns, “when time revives” uses a Hebrew idiom for “next year” which however, suggests new life.
Now the audience has heard that both Avraham and Sara in their different ways, greeted the promise of a child with some incredulity and with laughter. The divine response is mild, “Is anything beyond YHWH?” YHWH is not offended by the laughter; rather he plans to turn its motive from incredulity to delight. The audience already knows that the promised child will be called, “Yitzhak”, “He laughs”.
The delicacy of the relationship of YHWH with a human family is one of the triumphs of the Genesis author(s), and was recognised as such by subsequent biblical authors, such as the author of the story of Hannah in 1st Samuel, and the author of the Gospel of Luke.
And immediately going on board ship with his disciples, Jesus came into the parts of Dalmanutha.
11 And the Pharisees went out and began to dispute against him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, tempting him.
12 And groaning in his spirit, he says, Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen I tell you, A sign shall in no way be given to this generation.
13 And he left them, and going again on board ship, went away to the other side.
14 And they forgot to take bread, and save one loaf, they had not any with them in the ship.
15 And he instructed them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod.
16 And they reasoned with one another, saying, It is because we have no bread.
17 And Jesus knowing it, says to them, Why do you reason it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Have you your heart still hardened?
18 Having eyes, do you not see? and having ears, do you not hear? and do you not remember?
19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many hand-baskets full of fragments took you up? They say to him, Twelve.
20 And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, the filling of how many baskets of fragments took you up? And they said, Seven.
21 And he said to them, How do you not yet understand?
22 And he comes to Bethsaida; and they bring him a blind man, and plead to him that he might touch him.
23 And taking hold of the hand of the blind man he led him forth out of the village, and having spit upon his eyes, he laid his hands upon him, and asked him if he saw anything.
24 And having looked up, he said, I see men, for I see them, as trees, walking.
25 Then he laid his hands again upon his eyes, and he saw distinctly, and was restored and saw all things clearly.
26 And he sent him to his house, saying, Neither enter into the village, nor tell it to any one in the village.
Mark has been showing in his first seven chapters that Jesus had given many signs of God’s presence, revealing God’s goodness in word ad action. With some irony therefore he reports the Pharisees’ request for a “sign.” Jesus naturally refuses to perform supernatural tricks for people who are so blind. For them the healing of a few diseased Galileans is not a sign of anything that matters. It is this mixture of snobbery and brutality which causes Jesus to groan in anger and distress.
Now Mark tells the reader that the disciples are almost as blind as the Pharisees. They have seen Jesus feeding 5000 and 4000 people, with the “signs of the baskets” symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 7 nations of Gentiles, pointing to Jesus as the true king of humanity. They know that the secular ruler of their people, Herod, consumes the lives of his people, and their religious rulers lay harsh burdens on them. Jesus calls this the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, that is, their contribution to feeding the people. (Leaven is also something which has to be expelled from Jewish houses before Passover, the feast of liberation.) So Jesus is asking them to understand him as true king and to beware of al substitutes, but he recognises their blindness.
Whatever historical basis the “Jesus Meals” may have, we can see that Mark has used them as images of Jesus ministry; this is what he has been doing in his teaching and healing: feeding the people with God’s goodness.
The theme of blindness is continued in the story of the blind man, whose gradual healing mimes the spiritual condition of Jesus’ disciples who may still be at the interim stage of seeing walking trees. Mark uses the story almost as a parable that gives hope to those who fail to see clearly in matters of faith. One day our eyes will be fully opened.
Any mention of hearts being hardened in scripture reminds the reader of Pharaoh who could not allow the people to go free, “because God hardened his heart.” It is beyond the scope of this blog to discuss the issues of sin and freewill, but the biblical phrase rings true when I look back on the actions I most regret. I can no longer imagine how I could do them. Doubtless, my heart was hardened and refused to accept God’s goodness.
Mark’s story of Jesus the bringer of God’s goodness, becomes in its second act, a story of many hardened hearts and blind eyes, as well as the revelation of how these are overcome.