Abraham the Archetype for Mission


image-02-largeThe migrating nature of the people of Israel goes back to its origin, to the call of Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12,1). God’s call made Abraham the first wandering Jew. From the outset the history of the Election was characterized as a setting out. “For all the land which you see I will give to you … Arise, walk through the length and the breath of the land for I will give it to you” (Gen 13,15.17), promised God to the patriarch when he reached Canaan. The biblical author seems to suggest this as a divine irony. Abraham was certainly going to walk up and down and all around the country from Sechem to Negeb, from Mamre to Sodom. But as regards possessing the land, he owned so little of it that, at the death of his wife Sara, he had to get into Levantine bargaining in order to obtain the allotment of the few feet needed for burial[1] (Gen 23). He too was then reaching the end of his days: “I am a stranger and a sojourner,” he said[2] while stating his name and condition to the residents of the place[3] (Gen 23,4).

As underlined in the Letter to the Hebrews, Abraham and his sons “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land” (Heb 11,9). Abraham’s faith is defined by this discrepancy between the promise of a land and the fact “all died in faith, not having received what was promised” (Heb 11,13). Seen through the history of the father of believers, faith appears as the answer to a promise that always sends forward into an ever renewed setting out.[4] At the origins of the biblical events, Abraham the stranger is proposed as the archetype of the biblical man.[5] The route of his migrations became a parable of the ways of the Election.

[1] Cf. D. Rosenberg, Abraham: The First Historical Biography, Basic Books Publishers, New York, (2006), 286-288.

[2] Cf. J. Barton and J. Muddiman (eds.), The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, New York, (2007), 49.

[3] Cf. L. Legrand, Unity and Plurality: Mission in the Bible, (E. Tr. R. R. Barr), Ishvani Publication, Pune, (1992), 33.

[4] Cf. L. Legrand, Unity and Plurality: Mission in the Bible, (E. Tr. R. R. Barr), Ishvani Publication, Pune, (1992), 32-33.

[5] L. Legrand, “The Foreigners in the Bible,” in A. A. Xavier and P. J. Titus (eds.), The Word is Near You: Rom 10:8, Vol. III, St. Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bangalore, (2004), 201-214, 202.

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