Genesis 25: 7-11 – This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. 11 After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.
No place in the bible insists that we need believe literally its’ narrated events happened historically. However, we are asked, instructed, even obligated to present these stories, to weave them into our lives, our journeys, and our generations with the hope that the wisdom, instruction, and influence that they bring continues to live with us and beyond us. The power for life that lies in these stories is not in their historicity, but to be in conversation with thousands of years of ancestors, sages, priests, and prophets before us to this moment, guiding our feet in this journey with God and God’s people. In fact, in Jewish tradition, the Rabbis affirm that the words of a text are meant to be the first word on a matter and not the last.
With upward of 70 + years of no contact, the last time Isaac and Ishmael are seen together were as children before the previous generation set them at odds with another and split them apart with the intent that they never see one another again. These brothers were estranged the majority of their lives, hearing the stories about one another, whose fault it was, who didn’t belong, who wasn’t wanted, who was a mistake, and who wasn’t in God’s plan. As sons, these brothers inherited potentially traumatic, complicated, and conflicting dynamics. Yet, they weren’t ultimately defined by or stuck with them. They worked love to change them.
Beer-lahai-roi, translates as “the well of the one who lives and sees me”. Some in Jewish tradition position that Isaac and Ishmael met at this well to see and live beyond the narratives given to them. Imagine, Isaac and Ishmael, meeting and seeing one another at this well that saved Ishmael’s life while remembering the mountain top that almost took Isaacs’. Persistently, persuasively, time and time again they met at this well working to see, to engage one another, their histories, inheritances, and were changed this work. As a nation, people, and individuals, we too may be familiar with inheriting complicated, conflicting familial, social, and even political dynamics. Like Isaac and Ishmael, we do not get to choose the elements or qualities of our inheritances. Though complicated, conflicting or tragic, none can escape God’s power of transforming love. Yet, that love must be at work through us.
Eberhard Jungel, writes in God and the Mystery of the World that love is a giving of the self. We know that we are loved, when the self that we receive from another is greater than the self that we gave. It is not simply an emotion developed within but is translated into a loving, proactive, and sustained response. Jewish tradition calls this chesed − loving-kindness. Dynamic, it changes in openness and responsiveness to what it sees. Grounded in the entirety of who we are, one small transformation primes the stage for all that is connected to it. As Dr. King noted, in a real sense, all of life is interrelated, all of us are caught in an inescapable network tied in a single garment of destiny. But that destiny is not fixed, it has not already been determined. We are not ultimately stuck with what we inherit – we can work love to change it.
God who is love, help us to live into your command to love. Teach us that love in public looks like justice and tenderness in private. Show us that the best sovereignty is not power to coerce, but power that is transformative. Grant us the grace to recognize that our inheritances may be the first word in our lives, but do not have to be the last.