Many episodes in the Old Testament are vivid, capture life in the Middle East, and would have resonated powerfully with early listeners, as they do with folks in many parts of the world today. Bargaining is part of everyday life in the Middle East - just travel to the Holy Land - you will discover that in the first shop you visit! Why wouldn’t Abraham bargain with God to save the people of Sodom? He had relatives living there! This passage communicates the closeness of Abraham’s relationships with God; he is comfortable conversing with God and negotiating.
While various artists have painted depictions of the visit in our first reading, few have achieved the sublime insight of Andrei Rublev, in his icon the Holy Trinity. One of the most famous of Russian icons, or of any icons, it depicts the Lord’s appearance to Abraham in the form of three visitors as the Holy Trinity gathered around a table. Check out the Wikipedia article Trinity (Andrei Rublev). Find out who is who, and much, much more!
“The command…. is very near to you, already in your mouths and on your hearts.” How does that work? First, the commandments aren’t mysterious, incomprehensible or arbitrary. There is a logic … how people can live together in peace, with one another, with the created world, and with our own consciences. The commandments help to shape our consciences, but also resonate with the best in human nature.
When we read some books of the Bible, like Genesis, or the historical books, starting with Joshua & Judges, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, and continuing through Nehemiah, or the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, there is a definite plot line. However, don’t expect a developed plot running through the books of the prophets. What we find instead are predominantly oracles.
As Elijah was coming toward the end of his career, the Lord let him know it was time to anoint a successor. How does Elijah let Elisha know he is to follow, and then succeed him? He throws his cloak over Elisha. A cloak, or mantle, was the exterior garment, protection from the cold nights, to keep one warm. In the case of Elijah, it was also part of his identity, or trademark perhaps. Elisha responds by making a total break with his past, slaughtering the oxen that he used for plowing, setting a feast for the people, and then following Elijah.
Revelation is an amazing thing. Begin to notice connections in our Sunday Bible readings; you will be amazed at the incredible way the Holy Spirit inspired the holy writers and editors who shaped the Bible. Some who study the scriptures say our first reading from Zechariah is hard to interpret. “Him whom they have pierced” – who was the prophet referring to back then, after all, it was centuries before the time of Jesus? How does this passage fit with the rest of that prophet’s book? Fine questions, but hear this passage in light of the paschal mystery.
Two weeks ago, we encountered Melchizedek, a mysterious figure who appears out of nowhere in the book of Genesis, then disappears. The only other references in the Bible are one picked up in psalm 110, and a reference in Hebrews. While prayers, often content in the psalms connect to the historical books of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Other connections? Last week we had the story of Elijah resuscitating the only son of a widow, followed by a Gospel that very likely was significantly influenced by the story in the book of Kings.
Within, through, beyond the details of our first reading, the key theological point occurs in the last 2 sentences. The woman recognizes Elijah as a man of God. She also recognizes that he speaks the word of the Lord, and that the word of the Lord is effective: what God says happens. Similar conclusions are drawn by the people in today’s Gospel.
The first reading from Genesis today mentions Melchizedek. Name sound familiar? Who is this guy? Well, he only appears in the Bible in the brief reference in Genesis, in psalm 110 (which we hear fairly often), and in Hebrews. He is the King of Salem (an ancient name for Jerusalem), and a priest. But that shouldn’t raise eyebrows. In many ancient cultures, the King, Pharaoh, top ruler, even in the Roman Empire, Caesar, was also a high priest.
Deep relationships take time to develop. The process of truly getting to know someone unfolds slowly. Humanity’s relationship with God is no different. Many of our earliest ancestors believed in many gods. Slowly monotheism emerged. More time, and the understanding came that there is one God, but in a community of persons.