I wanted to know where Harran lays on a modern map. Turns out it is just inside the Turkish border, about 17 miles north of Syria. Damascus is in Syria, too. Heard anything about Syria in the news lately?
My entire reading of this week's text was colored (how could it not be) by what is happening today on the very ground Abram and his family traveled through. Here are the stories of the births of nations and of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. We all find our roots in the story of one man and his children. The very land God gave him is still riddled with horrific fighting between the descendants of Abram's two sons.
In Genesis 13:8, between Bethel and Ai (north of Jerusalem in the West Bank), Abram told his nephew Lot, "Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives." And they divided up who would use what land to avoid a family quarrel. If only Abram had been able to pass this attitude down to his children!
God forged a covenant with Abram and made him some promises.* First, he would give him a huge family that would bring blessing to the entire world. Second, he would give them a chunk of land along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea that would be theirs forever.
And they all lived happily ever after...
...or they would have if Sarai, Abram's wife, hadn't gotten impatient with how long things were taking. Oh, my goodness, how I relate with Sarai. I can just hear her talking in circles around Abram, wondering aloud for years and years when God is going to hurry up already, finally suggesting a plan that would "solve everything" if Abram would just sleep with her maid, Hagar. Okay, that part of the story I really don't relate with. I am NOT handing my husband over to some other woman, nor can I imagine a situation where that would be a good idea, but I did not grow up in a time and place where polygamy was accepted and expected, so who am I to judge?
I do relate, though, to Sarai, when Hagar is pregnant and start treating her wrongly, blaming it all on Abram. Of course it's his fault. Never mind that the whole thing was Sarai's idea, it's definitely his fault.
An angel of the Lord reassures Hagar about her baby, telling her it will be a son and his name will be Ishmael. That's where the reassurance ends. The next thing out of the angel's mouth is "His hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers." Remember that Ishmael became the father of the several Arab tribes, and the beginning of the family line of Mohammad, the founder of Islam. Has a truer prophecy ever been spoken?
Abram AND his son Ishmael (and all the other guys in the family) underwent their circumcision and God promised a child to Abram and Sarai once again.
And Abram cried out to God, and said, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"
This part surprised me. I thought God would say, "Nope. That wasn't our deal. No blessing for Ishmael."
That's not what he said. God's response was to bless Ishmael as the father of rulers, of a great nation. There were enough blessings to go around. But for Ishmael, there was no covenant. That was reserved for a child not yet born.
I feel like I've used too many words to say so little here. Buried in this story are the beginnings of a battle between nations that still rages on and hasn't really moved from its birth place. The war in Syria rages on with all its religious undertones not even trying to hide beneath the surface. These nations (Jews and Muslims and Christians alike) are scattering across the globe, looking for anyone who will take them in. And I wonder, where is my part in this? When a Muslim Syrian refugee ends up in my neighborhood, will I treat him any different than if he were a Christian refugee? Or a Jew? Or a Kurd? This question is one I will have to wrestle with. I don't think it's a question of "if" but of "when."
Is the Muslim immigrant destined to be my enemy, a truth set in stone by the word of an angel of the Lord thousands of years ago? I don't think so. My Muslim neighbor is my neighbor, and I know how Jesus thought I should treat her. I might not be able to change the course of history or stop the war in Syria, but I can love my neighbor, whoever it might be.
*This is the third covenant God has made in three weeks of readings. I would like to come back and explore the concept of covenant later in the year, maybe when I anticipate getting bogged down in Numbers.
This week's Torah portion:
2 Kings 4:1-37
Photo credit: mark lorch via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC