Back from holiday today and able to resume this blog in an orderly way. I am reading Genesis and Mark’s gospel in tandem, using the Schocken Bible for Genesis and the Darby translation for mark, both of which are very literal. The headlines are chosen to remind me that I don’t live in the bible.
CHINA IN FOG OF STATE CAPITALISM
GENESIS 24 frm verse 28
The maiden ran and told her mother’s household according to these words.
Now Rivka (Rebecca) had a brother, his name was Lavan.
Lavan ran to the man, outside, to the spring:
and it was
as soon as he saw the nose-ring and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists,
and as soon as he heard his Rivka his sister’s words, saying: Thus the man spoke to me,
that he came to the man – there, he as still standing by the camels, by the spring –
Come, you who are blessed by YHWH, why are you standing outside?
I myself have cleared out the house and a place for the camels!
The man came into the house and unbridled the camels,
they gave straw and fodder to the camels
and water for washing his feet and the feet of the men that were with with him.
Food was put before him to eat, but he said:
I will not eat until I have spoken my words.
He said: speak!
I am Avraham’s servant.
YHWH has blessed my LOrd exceedingly so that he has become great,
he has given him sheep and oxen, silver and gold, servants and maids, camels and donkeys.
Sara, my Lord’s wife bore my Lord a son after she had grown old, and he has given him all that is his.
And my Lord had me swear, saying:
You are not to take a wife for my son from the women of the Canaanites in whose land I am settled.
No! To my father’s house you are to go, to my clan, and take a wife for my son.
I said to my Lord, perhaps the woman will not go after me!
He said to me:
YHWH, in whose presence I have walked, will send his messenger with you, he will rant success to your journey,
so that you take a wife for my son from my clan and from among my father’s house.
Only then will you be clear from my oath-curse.
When you come to my clan,
if they do not give her to you, you will be clear from from my oath-curse.
The author wants to show, as Homer often does in the Odyssey, the good manners and gracious customs that were part of the lifestyle of the ancestors. Indeed both authors represent these as a generous piety which respects the care of the God or Gods for the stranger. The servant has begun his mission with bold but respectful gestures towards Rivka; and Lavan reciprocates with his courteous welcome, which he gives once he has recognised that the visitor is a person of substance as well as claiming kinship. These gracious actions allow space in which YHWH’s desire to bless his chosen family can prosper.
The storyteller makes the servant a storyteller also: the first part of his story introduces Avraham, the one who has wandered away from his family as a great and successful person, with all the possessions mighty sheikh, but who remains loyal to his distant family. Doubtless this flatters the family, but is arises from Avraham’s conviction that only those who have uprooted themselves as he has done, are the true bearers of YHWH’s promise. This is not commanded by YHWH but proceeds from Avraham’s own understanding of what YHWH’s blessing means.
The storyteller wants his audience to see that YHWH doesn’t know how to do this business but has to rely on the social skills of Avraham and his servant to take forward his purpose. The matchmaking involved is is no way religious, and pays heed to all the concerns a family might have in discovering a husband for their daughter: it is in the humanity of his people that God inscribes his goodness.
23 And Jesus looking around says to his disciples, How difficultly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. And Jesus again answering says to them, Children, how difficult it is that those who trust in riches should enter into the kingdom of God!
25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they were exceedingly astonished, saying to one another, And who can be saved?
27 But Jesus looking on them says, With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.
28 Peter began to say to him, Behold, we have left all things and have followed you.
29 Jesus answering said, Amen I say to you, There is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother,[or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel,
30 that shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time: houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the coming age life eternal.
Jesus’ teaching is quite clear: possession of riches leads to trust in riches and cuts the person off from God’s goodness. To desire more than one needs and to possess it, is an offence against God and one’s neighbour. The joke about the camel assumes that if it wasn’t for its hump, (its wealth) it might make it through the needle. God has provided enough for need but not for greed. Those who are greedy challenge God’s wise provision. Moreover, just as in the case of Avraham, God cannot do it all, but relies on people sharing justly and creatively. Jesus’ answer to Peter anticipates the kind of communities of faith described in The Acts, in which family relationships and possessions are freely shared for the good of all.
The vicious capitalism which now rules the world, with its insatiable demand for growth and greater consumption is the polar opposite of Jesus’ teaching; and the complicity of many churches with its culture is a betrayal of the gospel.