5 July, 2013. Friday of the Thirteenth Week
Gen 23:1ff. The death of Sarah; the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah.
Matt 9:9ff. The call of Matthew, tax collector, to be an apostle
First Reading: Genesis 23:1-4, 19; 24:1-8, 62-67
Sarah lived one hundred twenty-seven years; this was the length of Sarah’s life. And Sarah died at Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites, “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan.
Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.” 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?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. 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 offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to fllow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.”
Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Breaking with the Past
Today’s texts speak of radical life changes, to which people need to adapt. Genesis has the death of Sarah and her burial; not only is the first age of the patriarchs coming to an end, but the end evolves into a cutting away from the past. Buried in the land of Canaan, Sarah becomes a symbol that biblical people are in this new land to stay; they will never return to the ancestral country in upper Syria, or to Ur of the Chaldees in southern Iraq (Gen 11:28).
Abraham purchases a burial plot for Sarah and himself. Even though he is still a “resident alien”, he is in the land to stay, to gain it for all his descendants, and he remained to the end a man of promise. Paul summarized this spirit eloquently, “Hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance” (Rom 8:25). Hope remains valid, even if its fulfillment is long delayed. Abraham bids his senior servant, “Never take my son back to the land I have left.” The servant is not to select a wife for Isaac from the daughters of the Canaanites but from Abraham’s relatives in the land from which he migrated. While the onward march of history is recognized, the Bible is also concerned about our human, personal links and identity. We live peacefully and in continuity with our elders and ancestors, though we do not return to their age and place.
Compassion is also at the heart of Matthew’s account of how a despised tax collector is called to be one of Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus does not draw the application, yet his eating with those who disregarded the law provides a reason for the later church to reach out beyond Judaism and the narrow circle of those who know and keep the law. To paraphrase Amos, the gospel was to move “from sea to sea… from the north to the east in search of the word of the Lord.”
How to deal with radical change in our lives? First, to accept it as the will of God and not demand to go back; second, to adapt with human concern for the wider family; and always to practice justice towards the needy and compassion to any who are outcast.