The Story of Salvation – Part 9

+JMJ+ Welcome to part 9 of the continuing series, the Story of Salvation. This week we’re looking at Genesis chapters 12-20 and A Father Who Keeps His Promises (AFWKHP), Chapter Five. First I’ll talk a bit about words and symbols. Keep in mind the fact that these are thoughts jotted down rapidly and I’m leaving a whole lot out. Books could be filled with this stuff and have been but this is only a wee and humble blog post. I may take a deeper look at various things later on. Right now my folder of ideas for further exploration is getting very big. Okay, with all of that out of the way, let’s get going.

If you’ve never read Genesis or AFWKHP before, you might want to take some time to read them now. Well, not right now, but soon. Or now, up to you. The Bible is filled with symbolism (I am not saying it’s all just a bunch of symbols; a lot of people hear “symbols” and automatically hear instead “just a bunch of symbols” in their heads but that’s not what I said) and those symbols may whoosh right on by if you don’t have something to help you notice and understand them. Many events point back to an earlier event, or point forward to something that will happen later, and some point in both directions at once. Picking up on all of it by oneself is impossible, I think. The people who were living the Story of Salvation certainly didn’t see it, Some saw some of it, but I don’t think any of them saw all of it. Only Jesus did that, but then He was and is the Divine Logos, the Word made flesh Who tabernacled among us, so of course He did. 

But even now, with hindsight and knowing history (at least some history) as we do (some of us), we still don’t see the Big Picture and the symbols and the prophecies and the fulfillments and the ritual actions and what certain words meant and mean, and why liturgy, and why this and that. If you’re reading the Bible on your own, I can just about guarantee that you are missing most of it. If you’re in a good seminary, that’s different, or really it’s not because I said, If you’re reading it on your own. With no help, no good commentary, no good teacher, or no teacher at all, or, maybe worse, a bad teacher. Just you and the Bible. Then you are seeing and hearing only what you are prepared to see and hear and that is, sadly, most of the time, not very much. (I say this from experience. I am constantly learning new things about the Bible. I learned something today that I didn’t know before. And, yep, I’ll be sharing it later in this series.)

Places are mentioned in the Biblical narratives that one of the ancient Hebrews or, later, the Jews, would recognize immediately as a place rich with meaning and history in the family. (Certain rivers and wells come to mind.) Remember, nothing is included in the Bible by mere chance. Expect it to all have meaning, symbolic meaning. God writes symbols with real people, places and happenings. He writes history with lives and events. To read the Bible as if it were mere literature is to barely touch the surface of a very deep ocean and to miss a whole lotta points.

About rituals and actions, how we miss them, don’t see them, overlook them—we even miss the words that refer to them. We see the word “memorial” or “remember” and we take it at the surface level of our ordinary speech. But these words mean much more than mere remembering or memory, more than mere calling to mind. It’s more of a re-presentation, a making present so that we, who are living in another place and time, can be still be present at the event. (The highest example would be our re-presentation of the Institution of the Eucharist, or of the Crucifixion, both of which events are intimately bound together to form one Event: The New Covenant and our ratifying of it at every Mass. Note also that The New Covenant was Jesus Himself according to the New Testament itself. It wasn’t a book at first, it was HIM. Only later did the book take the name and later still we forgot and now we have to be reminded.) 

So the places that Abram/Abraham visits in his part of the story will be visited again by others in the story. People who have been seen earlier will be seen again, sometimes years, sometimes centuries later. Just keep all these things in mind for down the road. (Oy! I’m not asking much, am I?)

Lot gets into a lot of trouble

You’ve probably heard the stories of Abram and Lot, how they journeyed together for a time on their way from Ur into a strange land. How their families and households had grown so large that Lot decided that the land could not support them if they stayed together. So Abram said, Choose the land you want and go there and I will take the other. Lot took the most fertile land and settled near Sodom. This is how Lot came to be unprotected when five kings battled against four kings and came and captured Sodom and Gomorrah, and claimed all of their goods and possessions for their own. And those goods and possessions included Lot and all of his possessions. 

Good thing for ungrateful Lot, someone got to Abram to let him know what happened. And Abram, good father that he was, even though not strictly speaking Lot’s father, rose up and “conquered the conquerors,” as Hahn puts it, and rescued Lot and his family and all his belongings. (This story is in Genesis 13 and I’ve left out some things.)

There was a time when most people at least had heard of these stories, of Sodom and Gomorrah and how they were filled with wicked people and that God had grown angry and would destroy them, and Abram interceded for them, even though they were wicked (see Genesis 18), and asked God to let them live if He can find righteous men there. Abram pleads and pleads with God and God finally says, If I find even ten men there who are righteous, I will not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. But God could not find even so few as ten righteous men.  

Now, it’s a good thing that the Lord sent two angels to destroy these wicked cities and it’s a very good for Lot that he was “sitting in the gate of Sodom” and saw them and treated them with generosity and hospitality. (But what was he doing at that gate? In Sodom, of all places?)

Hospitality means more than we usually think it does.

This word, hospitality. Forget what you know of it from our secular American way of thinking. Forget about mediocre restaurants and motels. Forget about bad coffee that burns your throat and stomach and stale bagels and non-descript cereal (continental breakfast, my eye) and tiny soaps that smell awful. Think of what true hospitality would mean to people thousands of years ago (or even now) living in a desert and traveling anywhere anytime. You arrive in the heat of the day or the cold of night. You’re hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, tired, sore from walking or riding. You’re dirty and to say that you’re uncomfortable is putting it absurdly mildly. You’ve been dodging bandits and seeing mirages and now you are ready to collapse and if you do, then you will be ripe for the picking and not just by bandits but also by buzzards ready to clean your bones. And, of course, you have no money to pay for anything because maybe you’ve already been robbed. You survived but you’re worse for wear.

Now think about what generosity and hospitality would mean to you when you arrive in a city where you know no one, you have no family there, no allies, no one to protect you, nowhere to go. Hospitality, in these conditions, is nothing less than the difference between life and death. 

This is what Lot sees when he sees two men enter the city and he knows what will happen to them if he does not help them. He offers to take them inside his home and off the streets. He tries to protect them from the evil the city dwellers want to do to them. (I wonder if the reason those men want to do what they want to do to those angels is because they want to give God a great big slap in the face. If they know they are angels, they are bold to try to harm them, if not downright stupid. But if they think they are mere messengers from the Lord or someone powerful, then they are merely wicked and evil, and, well, sin does darken the intellect and weaken the will, so maybe they’re stupid either way. I don’t know.)

We’ll have to leave it there for tonight. I’ll pick up here next week. Thank you for visiting and reading. I hope you’ll join me again. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy, and most of all, become who you were meant to be: a SAINT! May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+

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Story of Salvation Table of Contents, Annotated
All Series Table of Contents, Annotated

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