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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bible and Catechism in a year: Day 14

Genesis 20:

I promised a few days ago when I "pilot errored" the editor that we would revisit this question of Abraham's deception.  Considering that we are on the heels of last week's moral blunder by Lot's daughters, it is fitting that we return to this theme.

To sum up, Abraham goes to Gerar, where he again claims Sarah as his sister, and this time the king of Gerar, Abimelech, brings Sarah into his household.  Before he can take her as a wife, however, he has a vision of the Lord, telling him the truth of the matter, and explaining that he will die if he does not restore her to Abraham.  The exchange between Abimelech and God is interesting, as Abimelech defends his actions and points to Abraham's deception.  God responds that He knows what happened, and doesn't blame Abimelech, but tells him that he must restore Sarah to Abraham or die.  Abimelech then chastises Abraham, and asks him why he has done such a thing, and Abraham explains himself.  Then, in a surprising move, Abimelech gives a small fortune in oxen, sheep, slaves, and silver.

So what's up with that?

A few things to think about:

1.  Sarah is technically Abraham's half sister, so his lie is not an outright lie, but a lie of omission.
2.  Abraham, in both cases, is in fear for his life for he is in foreign lands, in many of which it is not uncommon for a man to kill a woman's husband in order to take her into his household. 
3.  Sarah is apparently still quite stunning, even in her old age, and men seem to want her.

Do these factors excuse Abraham's actions entirely?  Perhaps not...but they certainly put them into perspective.

The first time around, with Pharaoh, there are some Jewish traditions that suggest that Pharaoh never touched Sarah as well - that she was protected by an angel who was the cause of the plagues mentioned in that episode.  It may be that Abraham had some foreknowledge that his wife would be protected, and therefore when these kings came to take his wife(sister), he didn't resist or put up a fight because he knew it would mean his death and that no harm would come to her.  But after the Lord reveals Sarah's status, either by vision or by show of force, neither king would dare harm Abraham, and in fact, give him a tribute of sorts.  Now, we might say that this tribute is ill-gotten...but then again, what is given to Abraham, while it may be a lot for him, is likely a mere pittance for these kings.  We must be careful, in light of developed moral theology, not to say that these stories allow us to say that "the ends justify the means," but if we bear in mind that Abraham's moral theology was certainly not particularly well developed, and that he clearly did not have as much revelation from God as we do, we can say that he is doing the best he can with the tools and knowledge he has been given. 

Psalm 14:

This psalm opens with the famous words:  "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"  That in itself is a lot to reflect on, especially in light of the current wave of "new atheism" which has taken root.  Certainly, later in the year I'm sure we'll have a chance to reflect on the arguments for the existence of God.  Suffice it to say for now that David was likely aware that knowledge of the existence of God could be reached by applying reason to the natural world.  The same holds true today, though today we have more distractions to keep us from truly contemplating the nature of the natural world.

Matthew 9:1-17

In this series of verses, we get three key stories:

1.  Christ healing the paralytic.  "Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?

Jesus gives a clear clue that he is more than mere man here...for certainly it would be blasphemous to say that a mere man could forgive sins.  Even as Catholics, we do not believe that our priests actually are the ones who forgive sins, but Christ who does so through the ordained minister.  Jesus certainly can forgive sins, for he is God, and this is one place where he begins to reveal that.

2.  Christ calling Matthew, the tax collector, and being criticized by the Pharisees for eating with sinners and tax collectors.

Here Jesus makes the statement that the well do not need a physician, but those who are sick.  We often say that the Church is a hospital for sinners, rather than a haven for saints.  I have heard the metaphor carried further, saying that you can't judge a medicine by those who neglect it, which is what I like to point out when people cite as their reason for not coming to church that it is 'full of hypocrites.'

3.  The Pharisees and disciples of John criticize Jesus' disciples for not fasting.

Jesus uses a well known wedding metaphor here, saying that the guests do not mourn while the bridegroom is with them.  Sensible enough.

But then He goes deeper with two metaphors about mixing old and new - new unshrunk fabric onto an old garment, and new wine in old wineskins.  Both acts would have disastrous effects.  Considering that He has already told us that he has not come to abolish the old law, but to fulfill it, and with this coming on the heels of talk about fasting, it follows that he is providing some additional information for us about the Church he will be establishing, that is, the new and everlasting covenant.

Those Christians who feel that they must adhere to old testament laws and feasts would do well to study this passage. 

Incidentally, for those who like to claim that when Jesus is speaking of wine, He actually means grape juice, this text is rather telling.  It can be determined that He does, in fact, mean grape juice which has fermented (and therefore has alcohol content).  It was the fermenting process which would cause a new wineskin to stretch and an old wineskin (which had already been stretched by the process) to burst.

Catechism 101-108

We acknowledge certainly that the scriptures are inspired by God, recorded by human authors using their gifts, and are certainly imporant, as they are one of God's ways of revealing Himself to us.  They are a love letter from God, in essense.  More on this tomorrow, since I'm long winded enough today already!

Tomorrow's Readings (actually today's, since I am late publishing this...)

Genesis 21
Psalm 15
Matthew 9:18-38
Catechism 109-119

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