The first passage for today comes from the Book of Genesis:
Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. 2 And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, 3 and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, 4 but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” 5 The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” 6 Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. 7 The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your descendants I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. 8 But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and swore to him concerning this matter.
While re-reading Genesis recently this passage caught my eye. I was particularly intrigued by Abraham’s insistence to his servant that Isaac not return to Ur. It got me thinking about why it was ok for Isaac to take a wife from there, but not live there. After some thought, I wondered if there might be some parallels to Christ and the Church. The Old Testament frequently compared the Lord’s relationship to Israel as that of husband and wife. The Song of Songs, of Solomon, is filled with allegories about such a relationship. But then we see in the New Testament that the spouse of the Lord is to be the Church. And the Church is the New Israel, not the old. Further it is a New Israel that is open to the Gentiles, and not merely the Jews. Part of me wonders if the lesson to be drawn from this passage, and its tie-ins throughout scripture, is that those who are not of God’s people can still become one with Him. However, to do so they must leave their old ways, their old habits, their old “lands” behind. In short, anyone can join with God, but to do so must leave all behind.
The second reading comes from the Book of Wisdom:
3 Those who dwelt of old in thy holy land
4 thou didst hate for their detestable practices,
their works of sorcery and unholy rites,
5 their merciless slaughter of children,
and their sacrificial feasting on human flesh and blood.
These initiates from the midst of a heathen cult,
6 these parents who murder helpless lives,
thou didst will to destroy by the hands of our fathers,
7 that the land most precious of all to thee
might receive a worthy colony of the servants of God.
8 But even these thou didst spare, since they were but men,
and didst send wasps as forerunners of thy army,
to destroy them little by little,
9 though thou wast not unable to give the ungodly into the hands of the righteous in battle,
or to destroy them at one blow by dread wild beasts or thy stern word.
10 But judging them little by little thou gavest them a chance to repent,
though thou wast not unaware that their origin was evil
and their wickedness inborn,
and that their way of thinking would never change.
11 For they were an accursed race from the beginning,
and it was not through fear of any one that thou didst leave them unpunished for their sins.
19 Through such works thou has taught thy people
that the righteous man must be kind,
and thou hast filled thy sons with good hope,
because thou givest repentance for sins.
20 For if thou didst punish with such great care and indulgence
the enemies of thy servants and those deserving of death,
granting them time and opportunity to give up their wickedness,
21 with what strictness thou hast judged thy sons,
to whose fathers thou gavest oaths and covenants full of good promises!
22 So while chastening us thou scourgest our enemies ten thousand times more,
so that we may meditate upon thy goodness when we judge,
and when we are judged we may expect mercy.
(Wisdom 12:1-11, 19-22)
Here we have an important lesson in mercy and forgiveness. As scripture reminds us, the people who lived in Egypt and later in Canaan at the time of Moses were unbelievably wicked (ok, not really, given the depredations of the present age, but still). Yet despite their evil ways God did not destroy them immediately, but gave them a chance to repent. Of course, they had no intention of doing so. But He gave them that chance nonetheless. If He was willing to show mercy and give a chance to repent to them, then we too should match His mercy.
Finally, we conclude with the Gospel according to Luke:
11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samar′ia and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
What is interesting to me about this passage is found in the final words of Jesus: “your faith has made you well.” Other translations say instead “your faith has saved you.” This seems to me to be an instance where translational efforts can have a significant impact on the meaning of scripture. Far more significance can, I think, be drawn from “your faith has saved you” as compared to “your faith has made you well.” For it seems to me that the former is concerned not with temporary health, but Eternal Salvation. And we see in the person of this Samaritan a man who demonstrates real faith.
How so? His faith was alive, not dead. Upon discovering that he was healed, he cannot help but go and praise God. He cannot help, in fact, but seek him out. That is real faith. That is faith which is alive. And that is the faith which is necessary for salvation.
Of course, I might be entirely wrong in this. Perhaps some of my readers, whose understanding of the original Greek is quite capable, can offer their thoughts on this particular passage. Let me know if I might be on the right track or not.