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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Chapter 4: Abraham

“Far be it from Thee to do such a thing,
to slay the righteous and the wicked,
so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike.
Far be it from Thee!
Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
(Gen 18:25)

            Rachel Snowden.  She was the one who had fought with her brother the morning of the Abraham lesson.  The one who had had violated Mr. Casey’s number one rule, bring your Bible.  But she had still be graced with more mercy than Jasmine that day.  Fifth grade was now pouring back to Jasmine.  How could she have forgotten it?  Not just forgotten it, but buried it.  Now the memories roared back to her like a waterfall.  The year had started bad with Noah and it never got better. 
            That Jasmine really liked Mr. Casey, her Sunday school teacher, made it most upsetting.  He was the teacher who started both the Summer Lunch Program, for which Jasmine volunteered, and the Bibles for Everyone project, which he shortened to “BE” and punned with the project’s motto: “To BE, you need a Bible!”  Every few years, the church held a benefit to raise funds for Bibles for the sanctuary, all the classrooms, and for every member, third grade on up.  Mr. Casey’s love for kids and his commitment to projects like BE made him so popular everyone called him Mr. C.
The week after Jasmine destroyed the Noah lesson, Mr. C’s fifth grade class moved to the next “favored by God” hero of the Bible: Abraham.  In the spirit of “BE,” every fifth grader knew the rule: bring your Bible.  But that morning, Rachel’s little brother had thrown a fit that morning, and she and her family raced out quickly to make it to church on time – but without her Bible.  Mr. Casey gave her his distinctive scowl: part scowl with head set away from us, nose crunched, forehead wrinkled, eyelids squinted, and his eyes cast as side eyes staring at us out of the corner, and part tease with a faint smile.  Since he really liked Rachel, his faint smile turned to a wide grin while he pulled one of the classroom Bibles and gave it to her.
“John, you were the first in your class today to successfully recite your memory verse, so if you’d like, you can start today’s scripture reading, Genesis 18.”  John quietly nodded.  It would have been rude to refuse such a kind offer, but John didn’t look like he was much in the mood to read.  “Read as far as you like,” Mr. C continued, “and then I’ll take it from there, ok?”  John nodded, read the first two verses, then looked up to Mr. C, and nodded again.  “Verse 3,” began Mr. C, “He said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.”  Mr. C emphasized the words “found favor” and paused before continuing.  He gazed through the room, looking at each of his students to re-emphasize last week’s lesson that Noah had “found favor” with the Lord. His eyes sparkled as if to say, “Do you, too, wish to find favor with the Lord?”  Jasmine caught no look of scorn or contempt from him, but the same gaze that he gave to each of his students.  He’s forgotten last week, or, at least, he’s let it go.  Everything will be okay.
            Mr. C continued to the verse he had selected for the week’s memory verse, Genesis 18:18-19: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
            “Teachable moment,” Mr. C interrupted, applying one of his favorite phrases. “What have you learned so far?”  “Abraham must have been a very great man!” Francine declared.  Jasmine’s heart was bursting to share her answer: “Abraham’s going to become a nation!  That’s cool!”  But, still too timid to speak up, she remained quiet.  She wished later she had spoken up.  Mr. C would have approved.
            At verse 23 Jasmine’s heart stopped.  The class had just read that Sodom and Gomorrah and sinned greatly and that the Lord was about to punish them just as greatly.  Then, in verse 23, Abraham stood up to God!  “Then Abraham approached him and said: ‘Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  What if there are fifty righteous people in the city?  Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” (Gen 18:23-24).  Jasmine’s heart was bursting.  Go Abraham!  She stood breathless, waiting for Mr. C to pause, to take a moment to capture this amazing teachable moment.  Abraham truly did deserve to become a nation!
            But he didn’t pause.  He continued, and the story got even better.  “Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from you!  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”  Wow.  Abraham really spoke up to God!  Tingles ran up and down Jasmine’s spine with excitement that this great hero of the Bible, who “found favor,” who was promised to become a “nation” stood up boldly with the Creator of the Heavens and Earth!
            Now Jasmine was bursting for him to pause.  This moment was much too “teachable” to miss.  Abraham was showing himself to be a very great man.  He was standing up for the people to God Himself.  All for the sake of righteousness.  He was even calling God into righteousness.  Abraham was her new hero.
            Mr. C still didn’t stop, and the story still kept getting better.  God listened to Abraham!  Mr. C continued onto verse 26: “The Lord said, ‘If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spar the whole place for their sake.”  Wow, Abraham had just bartered with God, and God agreed.  Jasmine would have stopped right there, soaking in her victory.  But Abraham didn’t.  Abraham was really bold.  He asked if God would spare it for forty-five, and God agreed He would; then Abraham asked if he’d spare it for forty, and God agreed He would; then Abraham bargained for thirty, then twenty, then ten.  God even agreed to spare the city for ten righteous people – because Abraham asked him to.
            Jasmine sat in her seat wide-eyed and stunned.  What if Noah had done that?  Would God have not drowned the world if Noah had asked God to spare it for a few righteous  people? 
            Throughout the remarkable conclusion of the chapter, Mr. C never paused, never took a “teachable moment.”  Now with the chapter read, the time had come to discuss it.  Mr. C began with boring questions: Who were the characters involved in this passage?  The students filled out the cast: Abraham, Sarah, the mysterious three men, and all the sinful people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Then he asked about the sinful people.  What might have made them sinful?  Jasmine was impatient.  When would they talk about Abraham standing up to God?  But her classmates played along and cited some ways the cities might have been sinful: greedy, drinking too much, being lustful, stealing, and so forth.
Finally Mr. C asked a real question: “What made Abraham different from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?”  Still silent, not wanting to make any mistakes before Mr. Casey, Jasmine couldn’t wait for one of her classmates to answer this question.  But their replies were mindless.  “He gave hospitality,” said Francine, “by treating those three mysterious men to a meal.”  “Very good, Francine,” replied Mr. C, “I bet many of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah wouldn’t have done that.”  “He washed their feet!” added Rachel.  “No one in Sodom and Gomorrah would have done that!”  Again, Mr. C smiled and nodded.  “Good point, Rachel!  Washing feet was considered a very special blessing, and in those days, people’s feet were very dirty, so many people did not offer a service so special.”  “They didn’t have shoes like ours!” cried John, “and they didn’t have showers like we have.  Think how stinky their feet were!”  Then all the kids started laughing hard, thinking about how stinky the feet were.
Jasmine laughed too, but she was still bursting.  What about Abraham standing up to God?  None of them said anything like that, and Mr. C wrapped it up.  “Well on that note of stinky feet, let's remember the story by drawing a picture."  He pulled out paper and colored pencils and suggested the scene of Abraham showing hospitality.  Jasmine couldn’t stand it any longer.  “How about Abraham standing up to God?”  Mr. C looked at her quizzically, and she added, “Isn’t that what really sets Abraham apart from the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  He stood up to God?  He asked God to be righteous?”
Mr. C was flummoxed.  Jasmine had just single-handedly ruined his lesson again.  The very next week.  She had been silent throughout the entire lesson.  And now she had just ruined another lesson.  “No, Jasmine, Abraham was different because he was righteous and the people of the two cities were sinful.”  He shook his head and then walked to pick up some colored pens.  “Now, why don’t you draw the scene of Abraham giving hospitality to the three men?”
Jasmine couldn’t bring herself to draw that scene.  There was only one scene that made her burst with excitement: Abraham negotiating with God.  She drew God as a great, big fluffy cloud and Abraham looking up to him with one of his arms  raised up. She added a speech bubble with Abraham saying, “How about 10?” and a speech bubble from the cloud that said, “OK.”  Mr. C looked at her picture and shook his head.  She knew what he was thinking.  She was “just like Eve.”

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