Some years back, I was surprised to hear John called the beginner’s Gospel. Surely the Gospel to begin with was Mark, the shortest and most likely the oldest, or Luke, with all those wonderful stories. John seemed to me a second-semester topic—or a graduate-level course. I saw it as an astonishing theological elaboration and re-presentation of the person of Jesus of Nazareth seen in the other books. The testimony of those sources needed to be heard first, I thought, before John’s majestically self-describing Christ could be understood.There was an additional reason that I thought it a mistake to hand the fourth Gospel over to “baby Christians.” I thought the book dangerous.
In January of this year I went to the Dominican Republic with Edge Outreach to install water purifiers. We were in the capital city of Santo Domingo. I was surprised to learn that the city does not provide clean water to its residents. Those who can afford it drink bottled water. Poor people drink the water from the tap and are frequently ill.
The urge to travel is in Abraham’s genes. According to Genesis 11, his father, Terah, uprooted the family from the southern Mesopotamian town of Ur and headed north to Haran. He intended to lead the family all the way to Canaan, but when he died in Haran a portion of the family settled there.
Reading the assigned texts for this week overwhelms me. The call of
Abram is told like a Haiku—just a few words, yet the mystery of our
life as God’s people hinges on this ancient call and response. After
the spare text in Genesis, the passages in Romans and John read like
dense thickets of complicated sentences and layered metaphors.
An economic migrant—a desert nomad—leads his family toward a land of promise, believing he is following the will of his Creator. And so begins the great trek for new life, survival, redemption. He will find danger, so much danger that he plans to pass his wife off as his sister. It is a trek repeated today in the heat of the Sonoran desert, in boats from Africa running ashore in southern Europe, in the hulls of boats from Fujian province to the shores of Long Island.