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 16 -33
The men arose from there, and looked uon the face of Sedom,
and Avraham went with them, to escort them.
Now YHWH had said to himself:
Shall I cover up from Avraham what I am about to do?
For Avraham is to become, yes, becme a great nation and mighty in number
and all the nations of the earth shall find blessing through him.
Indeed i have known him
in order that he may charge his sons and his household after him:
they shal keep the way of YHWH
to do what is right and just
inorder that YHWH may bring uopon Avraham what he spoke concerning him.
So YHWH said:
The outcry in Sedom and Amora-how great it is!
And their sin- how exceedingly heavily it weighs!
So let me go down and see:
If they have done acording to the cry that has come to me-destruction!
And if not-
I wish to know.
The men turned from there and went toward Sedom,
but Avraham stilll stood in the presence of YHWH,
Avraham came close and said:
Will you really sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?
Perhaps there are fifty innocent within the city,
will you really sweep it away?
Will you not bear with the place because of the fifty innocent people that are in its midst?
Heaven forbid for you to do a thing like this,
to deal death to the innocent along with the guilty,
that it should come about: like innocent, like guilty.
Heaven forbid for you!
The judge of all the earth-will he not do what is just?
If find fifty innocent within the city
I will bear with the whole place for their sake.
Avraham spoke up and said:
Now pray I have ventured to speak with my Lord
and I am but earth and ashes:
Perhaps of the innocent, five will be lacking –
will you bring ruin on the city because of the five?
I will not bring ruin if I find forty five.
But he continued to speak with him and said:
Perhaps there wil be found there only forty.
I will not do it, for the sake of forty.
But he said:
Pray let not my Lord be upset that I speak further.
Perhaps there willl be found there only thirty!
I wil not do it if I find thirty.
But he said:
Now pray I have ventured to speak to my Lord:
Perhaps there will only be twenty.
I will not bring ruin for the sake of the twenty.
But he said:
Pray let not my Lord be upset that I speak further just this one time:
Perhaps there will be found there only ten!
I will not bring ruin for the sake of the ten.
YHWH went as soon as he had finsihed speaking to Avraham, and Avraham returned to his place.
This pasage is to my mind one of the greatest in the Bible, indeed one of the greatest in all religious literature, filled with humour, passion, and profound theology.
The two figures in the story are equally drawn to be loyal to their partnership. YHWH feels that he should not undertake an exemplary punishment without consulting Avraham, in whom he has placed his hope for blessing all nations. YHWH appreciates the dignity and importance of his human partner, who, meantime has readied himself to question his God, believing that his own trust in YHWH as a source of justice must not be compromised. Both God and Human Being know that their partnership is precious.
The identification of the three men with YHWH continues but somehow God’s presence becomes semi-detatched from them, so that YHWH also remains with Avraham. We can note that after the conversation is complete, the three men have become two.
YHWH recollects that Avraham and his family are bidden to live by right and justice. This is integral to their ability to represent God’s goodness to the world. But now YHWH finds that Avraham has the confidence to represent God’s goodness to God! That leads to the comedy of a human being saying to God, “Heaven forbid you to do this!”
Really of course the argument is won with Avraham’s first question. When YHWH accepts that it would be unjust to kill fifty innocent people along with the guilty, “the game’s a bogey,” as Scots kids used to say when stopping a contest. But Avraham is remorseless; he must take his cause to the wire. And the audience which has applauded Avraham’s initiative becomes more and more anxious that YHWH will lose patience and burn Avraham to a crisp along with the sinful city. But perhaps YHWH enjoys being challenged in the name of his own (better) nature. Perhaps he too, wonders just how far Avraham will dare to go. In any case, he answers readily, with patience. The argument never strays from the main point, which is the justice of God, which YHWH has enjoined upon Avraham and his family. “The judge of al the earth – will he not do what is just?”
If we step outside the story for moment we can take stock. Human beings have invented – out of the depths of their experience of life- a God who is good and just. The goodness they ascribe to God is of course a human goodness, and the justice a human justice. For the inventors, only a God who meets or exceeds the requirements of human justice and goodness is worth worshipping. To worship such a fiction is to believe that the story points beyond itself to One Beyond Human Grasp. Nevertheless this One cannot repudiate his/her origins in the human expereince of goodness and justice. God may be more than this goodness and justice, but He/she cannot be less.
Quietly, but very definitely, Avraham is saying that a God who fries the innocent with the guilty, is no God at all. But God passes the test.
How astonishing a story it is, and how unlike the miserable, heavy-handed, humourless stuff that has so often passed for theology in the Christian Church. But nobody should think that because this theology is light on its feet, it is therefore shallow. This theology can take up the task of questioning Auschwitz or the certainties of Islamic State.
Anyone who thinks of exercising any form of authority in communities of faith, should be made to sit with this passage until thye have become as radical as Avraham. And YHWH.
THERE IS NO PASSAGE FROM MARK TODAY DUE TO PRESSURE OF WORK