Monday, December 5, 2016

Genesis Notes: Abram's Practicality

When Abram gives Lot the first choice of land, we begin to see not only his generosity but his wisdom. Abram is willing to put family peace above what he might want personally. We also see that there is a bigger lesson about wealth being taught here.

The Parting of Lot and Abraham mosaic from Santa Maria Maggiore
Abram's wealth meant that he and Lot could not dwell together on the land. This created strife in the family, which leads to a separation. It is worth taking note that this first mention of great wealth in the Scripture is associated with unhappiness and lack of peace. This will become a constant theme in the rest of Scripture. It is no surprise, then, when Jesus tells His followers not to bother laying up treasures on earth. If the heart of man is so closely connected to his treasures, better that he should build treasures in heaven, where there can be no threat to happiness or peace (see Matt. 6:19-21).
This also is a continuation of what God showed Noah through the rainbow, the use of physical things as sacraments.
If Abram's descendants were ever to become a "great nation," as God had promised, the first thing they would need was land. Tribes of people without land of their own remain just that-tribes of people. God told Abram to take a good look at the land itself. This was the concrete reality that lay before his eyes. The land was real to him; the promise of descendants to fill it was still a hope, which depended entirely on God's trustworthiness. This is reminiscent of God's use of the rainbow with Noah. He uses here a concrete reality within nature as a sign of His promise to act. In the Church, God continues to do this in the sacraments.

Abram may have been thinking the same kind of thoughts we think when we approach a sacrament. "All I see here is land-dirt, rocks, bushes. God says this will be the home of my great nation. I don't have any kids, and my wife is barren. Can I really believe this?" In the sacraments, we are always faced with these very human questions. "This is just water on a baby's head. Is this child really being washed from original sin and given the Holy Spirit?" "This looks and tastes like bread and wine. Can I really believe that I am eating the Body and Blood of the Lord and that it will give me eternal life?" When we think those thoughts, we are much like Abram, walking through that desert land, pondering the promises of God. That is why his response will be of interest to us.

All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

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