We might call the section of the Book of Genesis we’re reading the next two weeks at Mass (Genesis 11-50) its Jewish phase. The first 10 chapters of Genesis describe the origins of the world and the beginnings of the human race. Chapter 11 begins with the call of Abram. At morning prayer today our reading from the Book of Judith tells us to recall how God dealt with Abraham and how he put him to the test. (Judith 8, 25-27) For the Jews living after the exile (the time the books of the bible seem to have been finally assembled) Abraham was someone to look to as they made their way in uncertain times, when the road ahead was unclear.
The road ahead doesn’t seem clear for us either.
The Commentary from the New American Bible describes these chapters from Genesis as a book exiles can learn from:
“Genesis 11–50. One Jewish tradition suggests that God, having been rebuffed in the attempt to forge a relationship with the nations, decided to concentrate on one nation in the hope that it would eventually bring in all the nations. The migration of Abraham’s family (11:26–31) is part of the general movement of the human race to take possession of their lands (see 10:32–11:9). Abraham, however, must come into possession of his land in a manner different from the nations, for he will not immediately possess it nor will he have descendants in the manner of the nations, for he is old and his wife is childless (12:1–9). Abraham and Sarah have to live with their God in trust and obedience until at last Isaac is born to them and they manage to buy a sliver of the land (the burial cave at Machpelah, chap. 23). Abraham’s humanity and faith offer a wonderful example to the exilic generation.”
I like Jesssica Power’s poem on the great patriarch:
“I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten
unwavering nomad; when God called to him
no tender hand wedged time into his stay.
His faith erupted him into a way
far-off and strange. How many miles are there
from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie,
or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait?
How could he think his ancient thigh would bear
nations, or how consent that Isaac die,
with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?
I think, alas, how I manipulate
dates and decisions, pull apart the dark
dally with doubts here and with counsel there,
take out old maps and stare.
Was there a call after all, my fears remark.
I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you,
are you my father? Come to me in pity.
Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.