Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Abraham, model of Laudato Si?

I have to admit it. Even though St Paul drew insights in abundance from the stories of the patriarch Abraham, I kind of groan inside when the liturgical readings hit the Abraham cycle (Genesis, chapters 11-25). Guess what? We hit the Abraham cycle as of yesterday. Today's reading told of how kinsman Lot settled in the beautiful green valley near Sodom (cue the subtle bass tones that signal impending doom). Guess what else? I was blown away with insights in, if not abundance, a certain clarity. In a way, Abraham is showing us in today's reading something that Pope Francis is telling us in his encyclical Laudato Si.

Photo by Sr Mary Lou Winters, FSP.
Led by God, Abraham and nephew Lot have left Haran and entered Canaan, the land God intends to bestow on Abraham and his descendents (of which not a one existed yet). Used to leading flocks and herds, both men quickly appraise the territory. But neither one makes a land grab. They try sharing the area, but conflict arises. They may be kinsmen, but their goatherds do not share the family loyalties. Or rather, the herdsmen are loyal to "their" chieftan. For the sake of peace, the two family groups must separate. And Abraham gives the younger man first pick.

Younger and brash, Lot sets his heart on the well-watered gardens of the Jordan Plain, near prosperous Sodom. Abraham (still called Abram at this point) watches him go and then moves his camp westward.

This is where I see "Laudato Si." God had not yet given the land to Abraham; it was still in the realm of promise. Abraham treated it as a "common home," not as his to exploit (as if that was even possible in those pre-industrial times). As the elder, Abraham could have assigned Lot his, well, lot. That would have introduced into the family the kind of rivalries that were already taking place at the level of the shepherds, and the civilization that would have sprung from those roots would have been poisoned from the start with suspicions, accusations, deceit, grasping, coveting...

But Abraham acted as someone who knew that his inheritance from the Lord was secure; he did not have to seize the best land for himself or strategize how to get and keep it. The God who had brought him from Haran was the Lord, the maker and owner of it all, and he who had made the promises was worthy of trust. Abraham did not grasp at what God gives. He did not act as a proprietor, but as a visitor (aren't we all?), "looking forward to the city with foundations whose designer and builder is God" (cf. Heb. 11:9-10).

I think this attitude is a good one with which to read the new encyclical "On Care for Our Common Home": to let Pope Francis show us the whole land, belonging not to the tribes that presently inhabit it, or mine it, or rule it, but belonging to God and entrusted to everyone.

Do you have the faith of Abraham?

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