July 6, 2011


Filed under: Lectionary — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 12:40 pm

Ever have one of those weeks when Sunday’s readings just stay in your head, insisting that you keep thinking about them? I’ve been thinking about Rebekah, indulging in one of my favorite sports: looking at what we’re told, and imagining what we’re not told. A seminarian friend once described it as “surface-level amateur midrash,” akin to preferring a book over a movie because we like to build our own mental images.

The Rebekah story begs me to wonder about her family—Isaac’s servant is on a mission, Rebekah emerges as the one who fulfills the sign, but what happens when Rebekah comes back with the day’s water, “Oh, by the way….I watered this guy’s camels. Can somebody help me pack so I can go marry his master?” If I sent my daughter out for a gallon of milk, I would hardly expect her to come roaring up the driveway on the back of some guy’s motorcycle, showing off their freshly inked matching tattoos.

So what are the possible scenaria?

Given the time and the culture, the most obvious reaction would be that the servant is offering a good deal. The lobolo is generous, the servant clearly works for a good family and seems honest and in earnest. So the father is pleased with a good business transaction and responds in kind.

Perhaps it was an honor. Genesis 24:50-51 certainly suggests that Rebekah’s father is of the same god as Abraham (we know they are kinsman) and is touched by the story of the sign: “The thing comes from the Lord; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your mater’s son, as the Lord has spoken.” My mind can’t help but fast-forward a few thousand years, to Christian families offering a son or daughter to holy orders.

So here’s a big what-if: What if Rebekah’s family shared genuine affection for one another? What if Bethuel was pleased with the lobolo, trusted that it was a good match and God’s will, but hated to see her go? What if, deep down, he dreaded waving good-bye as she set off to a new life in a far-off place? What if he were genuinely heartsore at the thought of never seeing her again?

When I look at Bethuel through my culture’s lens, allowing him to be a loving and generous father, he becomes a very different character. He brings to life something completely unrelated that I also read this week: a definition of stewardship as opening both hands to give when every fiber of our being wants to cling tightly with a clenched fist.

What a vivid description of generosity. What an apt metaphor for acting in faith. Do you already have images swirling in your mind of times when you wanted to hold tight—to a resource, to a loved one, to an idea or belief or conviction—yet knew the faithful response was to do just the opposite? Or have you been the one who was allowed to go, blessed on your way as you took the path that the Lord had spoken?

I hope that as you reflect you will be willing to share your own stories. Among us there are so many Bethuels, and Rebekahs, and even messengers—let’s not forget that the servant had to be open to speaking the Lord’s will to Rebekah and her family. How does this story speak in you?


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