This blog is reading the books of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem, using the Schocken Bible for Genesis and the Darby translation for Mark. The news headline reminds me of the world.
GENESIS 24 from verse 55
They ate and drank, he and the men that were with him and spent the night,
When they arose at daybreak, he said:
Send me off to my lord.
But her mother and brother said:
Let the maiden stay with us a few days, perhaps ten – after that she may go.
He said to them:
Do not delay me, for YHWH has granted success to my journey. Send me off that I may go back to my lord.
Let us call the maiden and ask for an answer from her own mouth.
The called Rivka and said t her:
Wl you go with this man?
I will go.
They sent off Rivka their sister with her nurse and Avraham’s servant with his men
and they gave Rivka farewell – blessing and said to her:
Our sister, may you become thousandfold myriads!
May your seed inherit the gate of those who hate him
Rivka and her nurse arose, they mounted the camels and went after the man.
The servant took Rvka and went away.
Now Yitzhak had come from were you come to the Well of the Living-one-who-sees-me – for he had settled in the Negev.
And he went out to stroll in the field around the turning of the sunset.
He lifted up his eyes and saw: here, camels coming!
Rivka lifted up her eyes and saw Yitzhak;
She got down from the camel and said to the servant:
Who is the man over there that is walking in the field to meet us?
The servant said:
That is my lord.
She took a veil and covered herself.
And the servant recounted to Yitzhak all the things that he had done.
Ytzhak brought here into the tent of Sara his mother.
He took Rivka and she became his wife, and he loved her.
This was Yitzhak comforted after his mother.
This extract brings to a conclusion the story of the wooing of Rivka (for my comments see the previous three blogs). The author has emphasised the the Servant has done everything according to the courtesies of the time, while insisting that his task is directed by YHWH, the God of Avraham. In this episode, however, he demands an unusual haste in leaving with Rivka, again mentioning the will of YHWH. When her family demurs, she agrees to go, showing that she recognises the urgency of the journey to her future. The verbs go, send and take are prominent here, indicating the separation of the bride from her own family.
The first meeting of the couple is handled with brevity and discretion. Yitzhak is at the well of the “Living -one-who-sees-me”, the God of Avraham, who crucially “saw” the about- to- be- sacrificed Yitzhak and commanded his safety, and who has overseen the entire journey of Avraham. YHWH has done nothing supernatural but has guided events through the faith of Avraham. The well is of course a reminder of the well where the servant met Rivka in her own country. Here the man comes to the well to meet the woman who arrives as a stranger. Rivka veils herself as a sign of respect: she gives herself to this man and belongs to him; she is a free maiden no more. She replaces Sara as the matriarch of her new family. The brief phrase, “and he loved her” is important. This is not merely a successfully arranged marriage. The woman is loved by her husband. YHWH’s plans do not exclude the deepest needs of his human partners.
This almost concludes the story of Avraham, who has been called out by YHWH to be his partner in blessing all humanity, and who has lived his life learning what this vocation entails. Now as his life ends, his son, his beloved and “only” son, who is YHWH’s gift to him, begins his partnership in the company of a woman who has herself repeated Avraham;s journey from the ancestral homeland to the place of promise.
Without doubt the story is partly constructed from the viewpoint of a later Israel which viewed the land Canaan as its own. Even so, this picture of the first patriarch shows a man of gentleness, courage and conviction, learning what it means to travel with God, and showing the greatest peacefulness and respect in his relations with the “people of the land.” He comes to share not to conquer. In this episode, YHWH finds human partners who trust that their future comes from God, most painfully in the terrible test of Yitzhak’s binding. It is a partnership marked by mutual trust, respect for each partner’s sphere of competence, by sober loyalty and just occasionally, mischievous laughter. Like the stories of Jacob and Joseph which follow it is one of the most profound pieces of theology ever written.
41 And the ten having heard of it, began to be indignant about James and John.
42 But Jesus having called them to him says to them, You know that those who are thought worthy to rule over the nations exercise lordship over them; and their great men hold authority over them;
43 but it is not so among you; but whoever would be great among you, shall be your servant;
44 and whosoever would be first of you shall be the slave of all.
45 For also the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.
These words express the utter contradiction between the way of Jesus and the way of the world. He refuses the competition for higher status and the kind of power which comes from possessing that status. He has come to “serve”; meaning he takes the role of the person who is not free, but belongs to another. We should never forget the institution of slavery in Jesus’ society, and that words such as “service” and “master” belong to that institution. Jesus rejects all such hierarchy but shows a voluntary service of other’s needs, which he also commands.
“But it is not so among you” is a challenging phrase for the church. Certainly the church must stand for equality and compassion is society, but it must also be an example of such a society. I think I know churches where the clergy are servants and also ones where they “exercise” a pernicious “lordship” over their people. When I look back at some of the things I’ve done and said as a minister, I shudder at my own disobedience to Jesus’ teaching.
Where Jesus’ teaching is followed the community s strengthened and its members blossom as individuals:the teaching is strict but it is fruitful.