Today’s lectionary includes Genesis 15, in which Abraham laments his childless status and worries about who will inherit his considerable wealth. This is a story from the ancient past, classified by Jewish scholars as legend, written down perhaps 2500 years ago; but how immediate! People who suffer (and rejoice in) the lifelong responsibilities of parenthood will perhaps not understand the pain of being the end of a family line. When a fundamentalist Hindu fighter came in supplication to Gandhi to confess his suicidal shame at beating a helpless Muslim child to death during the bloody partition of the sub-continent, Gandhi offered him advice: adopt a Muslim child whose parents have been killed by Hindus, raise him as your son, as a Muslim; you will find salvation and discover love.
The love of possessions misguides us into believing that someone must inherit and love the material objects as we have done; how much better to give them to a charity shop so that someone who actually wants them can use them. Letting people inherit wealth which they have not earned rarely does them any favours, judging from the lamentable stories that emanate from the “noble” families of our land. Pretending that somehow one person’s family is ancient and another’s is recent or non-existent arises from pure ignorance.
The truth is that only love will make us happy, and love is a verb; it is something that we can do; it is something we can do for others, whether our own children or someone else’s. The more we love, the more we experience love, the happier we become. The instant that our care for others becomes a burden, everyone suffers until we stop doing it.
Abraham and his wife, Sara, were given a child in their old age in this story, but such is not always the case. God hearing prayer does not make God the celestial equivalent of Argos or Amazon, promising satisfactory next-day delivery. Intercessory prayers on our own behalf are often only successful if those who pray discover how to change their desires from material gifts to spiritual gifts.
We are the family of God; everyone is related; older people are our mothers and fathers, those our own age are our brothers and sisters, and all children are our children. Love is universal and not confined to our genetic family, our tribe, our nation. Jesus discovered, through his encounter with the Woman of Samaria, that his mission was to offer the love of God to all peoples and not to the Jews only. It took a while for the Early Church to rediscover this. How much longer will it take us?