This blog continues a meditation on the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark, which began on 1st January 2015. Previous blogs can be found in my archives.The headline helps to keep my thought real.
It was about that time that Avimelekh, together with Pikhol, the commander of his army, said to Avraham:
God is with you in all that you do.
So now, swear here to me by God
If you should ever deal falsely with me, my progeny and my posterity….!
I so swear.
But Avraham rebuked Avimelekh
because of a well of water which Avimelekh’s servants had seized.
I do not know who did this thing,
nor have you ever told me, nor have I heard of it apart from today.
So Avraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Avimelekh
and the two of them cut a covenant.
Avimelekh said to Avraham:
what mean those seven ewe lambs that you have set aside?
Indeed, these seven ewe lambs you should take from my hand
so that they may be witness for me that I dug this well.
Therefore that place was called Be’er Sheva/ Well of the Seven-Swearing,
for there the two of them swore an oath;
thus they cut a covenant in Be’er Sheva.
Then Avimelekh and Pikhol the commander of the army arose and returned to the land of the Philistines,.
And Avraham planed a tamarisk in Be’er Sheva,
and there he called out the name: YHWH God of the Ages.
And Avraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days.
The form of this story is intended to show Avraham using the dignified customs of a past age in dealing with a local prince. There is obviously an issue to do with the right possession of a well. Who dug it and who therefore owns it? Avimelekh’s men have seized it, and probably he knows it and therefore fears reprisals from Avraham. The oath of peaceful loyalty he proposes is intended to stave off violence.
Avraham is ready to swear but quietly drops into the conversation his grievance about the well. In courtesy, Avimelekh denies knowledge of it, which is a way of disowning what has happened. Avraham accepts his word but asks Avimelekh to accept a gift of lambs as a sign that the well belongs to Avraham. By accepting the gift Avimelekh accepts that the well is Avraham’s, although of course it will remain accessible to every traveller.
The whole episode is designed to show Avraham as someone who could uphold his rights without threat or violence. The whole negotiation takes place under the name of God. The manner of the negotiation, where so much goes unspoken, will be familiar to anyone who has done business in the Near East even today.
The ability to stand for your rights while having a care for the interest and honour of your opponent is of permanent value.
41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you are Messiah’s, Amen I say to you, he shall in no way lose his reward.
42 And whosoever shall be a snare to one of the little ones who believe in me, it were better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck, and he cast into the sea.
43 And if your hand serve as a snare to you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having your two hands to go away into hell, into the fire unquenchable;
45 And if your foot serve as a snare to you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life lame, than having your two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire unquenchable;
47 And if your eye serve as a snare to you, cast it out: it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire,
48 where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.
49 For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
(50 Salt is good, but if the salt is become saltless, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.)
Either Mark or his source at this point is using key words to link and memorise material.
First Jesus urges his disciples to recognise the value of anyone who helps them in any way because they share the mission of Jesus Messiah. He has just issued a warning against a sectarian attitude towards people who are not part of their group. People must be measured by their attitudes and actions rather than whether they have signed up to church membership and a deed of covenant to its funds.
The first link word is “snare” which is Darby’s translation of the Greekskandalon, literally, a stumbling block, a device used in warfare or crime to trip people up. Snare is a good translation. The little ones mentioned are no longer actual children but disciples who have become little through their commitment to Jesus. Those who try to trip them up and make them lose their faithare warned of a severe punishment.
But not all “snares” are outside us. The link word triggers the insertion at this point of Jesus’ teaching on self-discipline. The parts of the body are not significant, nor even symbolic: they are mere illustrations of cherished possessions, abilities or habits which may trip up a person’s discipleship. They do have a real savagery however, suggesting that there are aspects of ourselves that we may be better without. If it gets in the way of our following Jesus, get rid of it! I guess this is contrary to most of modern psychiatric practice, but my personal experience is that it works. (It is rumoured that St. Origen a great early Christian theologian, took the bodily reference too literally and tried to castrate himself, poor chap. Scripture reading can be dangerous!). Jesus talks about hell with some enthusiasm and vividness. We need not take his words literally but we should note that he clearly did believe that goodness would be rewarded and evil punished.
But the reference to the fire of hell reminds Mark of another saying of Jesus, that all his disciples will be “salted with fire”, meaning that they will be kept wholesome by fire ( by tests and trials), like cooked meat. Sometimes we won’t need to discipline ourselves; circumstances will do it for us. I also know the truth of this saying from personal experience.
Finally, Mark remembers other “salty sayings” of Jesus. One attested also by Matthew and Luke sees disciples as “salt” who keep society from going bad, but asks what will happen if they also go bad. The other reminds disciples to preserve their wholesomeness by the gospel disciplines of peaceful living.