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Friday, September 14, 2018

8: Standing up to God

“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)

Jasmine didn’t discover herself to be progressive until her sophomore year of college.  In fifth grade, she was simply a curious kid in a conservative Christian family attending a conservative Christian church.  No one at that time, least of all Jasmine herself, perceived her to be odd in any way other than inquisitive.  When her mother couldn’t answer one of Jasmine’s tough questions, she’d say, “I don’t know, Sweetie, but you’re a smart cookie, so go find out.”
Trusting other adults would feel as her mother, Jasmine did.  That usually meant asking them, especially the Sunday school teacher she adored.  But by the time her Sunday school class made it to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jasmine had already learned that Mr. C. was particular about which curiosities he did and did not like.  Questions, in general, he wanted, but some were off limits, and Jasmine began trying to keep off the off limits questions.
A hero shown to be as thoroughly great as Abraham was in Genesis 18 should have made Jasmine’s task easy.  The lesson began the usual way with all students pulling out the BE Bibles, standing for Bibles for Everyone, they had received in third grade.   Mr. C. offered John, the first in the class to recite his memory verse, the chance to start the scripture reading from Genesis 18.  Such an offer is usually an honor, but on this day, John appeared to be only modestly 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.  “Verse 3,” nodded 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 telepathically remind them of the previous 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, and he gave Jasmine the same warm-hearted gaze that he gave to the other students.  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 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 spare the whole place for their sake.”  Wow, Abraham had just bartered with God, and God had 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 refrained from drowning 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 the teacher she so admired, 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, thinking about the stinky the feet.
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.  “On that note of stinky feet,” he clapped, “let’s remember the story by drawing a picture.”  Pulling 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.  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.  This time, at least, he released a thin smile when he said, for the second time, “Jasmine, you’re just like Eve.”

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