Thoughts for Saturday 13th June, 2020

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Genesis 24:10-52; Mark 7:1-13

Saturday 13 June - Rev. Jerry Eve

In our Old Testament reading for today we have part of the story of an arranged marriage. The detail could be described as forensic, and it does make us wonder why so much is both imparted by the writer, and then repeated.

The context for this story is that Isaac’s mother, Sarah, has died. And this reminds me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. We tend to think of arranged marriages as belonging to faiths other than Christianity, but Austen’s enduringly popular novel of 1813 demonstrates that it was once very much practised within our own.

That part I am mainly thinking about is Mrs. Bennet’s anxiety that, if her husband dies, she may lose the house they are living in. Whereupon Mr. Bennet (and it is a joke, but he) says, “My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor.” ‘This,’ we then read, ‘was not very consoling to Mrs. Bennet.’

It’s a comedy, of course, whereas Genesis isn’t. The point I’m hoping to make here, though, is that we may balk at arranged marriages ourselves, and yet there is a very strong argument that marriage is just too important a decision to leave up to a younger generation, and that it is an abrogation of an older generation’s responsibility to do so. This is not an argument, however, I am prepared to advance with my own daughters (or indeed sons), although I do pray they may be lucky in love.

It’s a little later on in the same chapter before Rebecca seems to be consulted in any way at all, and that’s after the decision regarding her marriage has been taken. And so at verse 57 she’s not asked whether she’d like to meet Isaac first, for example, but simply about whether or not she’d like to delay her journey to Canaan for a week or ten days. It may have been that, if asked, she might well have consented, but nowadays the United Nations thankfully make a very clear distinction between marriages that are arranged (and where both parties are fully consensual) and ones that are forced. The latter are ones they wholeheartedly condemn.

Isaac and Rebecca’s father, Bethuel, are cousins, and one of the things I like to do in order to help understand what’s happening in these Bible stories is to draw a family tree. This can then be referred to, and in this way you’ll  able to see, just for example, that there are actually two Nahors, and that while one is a brother to Abraham, the other was a grandfather to them both.

As we pray for relationships to be happy ones today, I’m hoping it might be a help for you to read Seamus Heaney’s poem, Scaffolding, the starting point for which uses less than romantic imagery. You may prefer a red, red, rose yourself, but do please give it a try. Let us pray:

Scaffolding

(Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013)

 

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

 

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

 

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

 

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

 

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

 

Amen.

 


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