Some of us can imagine being seventy-five. Few of us, however, can imagine being seventy-five and having the Lord ask us to walk halfway around the known world to a foreign land to start over again.
Abraham can be a bit of an intimidating figure, especially when the glimpses we get of him are at moments like this. If all we see is this Abraham--the Abraham who picks up and moves without question, later willing even to sacrifice Isaac for the Lord--we can’t help but be intimidated.
The problem, however, is that this isn’t the whole Abraham.
If you spend some time in the first book of Moses, you get to know Abraham and his family pretty well. You learn that Abraham was doing the dysfunctional family thing before it was cool. You notice that, while Abraham had some mountain-top moments of faith, he also had his valleys. His son, Ishmael, that he had with his maidservant, Hagar, was living, breathing proof of that.
And that’s where St. Paul’s words come into the picture. Paul’s words are especially helpful for all those who might have caught the mountaintops but missed the valleys, who might think that Abraham paved his way to the Promised Land with good works and gumdrops. Paul writes: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).
When it comes down to the Promised Land, it comes down to grace, God’s unearnable love. God’s law may threaten the old man’s sinful flesh, like a beast, into half-hearted, begrudging, and shallow obedience, but God’s promises speak only to faith.
If you want to stay out of jail, look to the law. If you want into heaven, look to the promise. If you want to earn a paycheck from your boss, work. If you want to receive salvation from your God, believe.
Let’s look at it a different way. Why did God call Abraham? It’s a good question, isn’t it? So why? I suppose for the same reason He called Moses, David, Mary, Peter, and Paul. They were hardly perfect, as much as we like to look for a reason in them. So why did He call them? He just did.
If you don’t believe me, read Genesis and listen to Abraham, listen to Moses, listen to David in the Psalms, to Mary in the Magnificat, to Peter in his epistles, to Paul in his. Listen to them and you’ll hear them give the same answer: because God is good although I am not.
If their testimony isn’t enough, step into the Holy Gospel and ask the Samaritan woman at the well, who meets the same LORD who appeared to Abraham at the oak of Moreh.
The woman came to the well around the sixth hour, at noon, the worst possible time, in the heat of the day. No one went to the well at that time. And that’s why she went. She was embarrassed to see her neighbors, ashamed of her life, and wanted to be alone—to get her water and go. And, lo and behold, who does she meet there? God. Beware of wells and oak trees.
That’s when things got weird. All of a sudden, this stranger, this Jew—and Jews did not talk to Samaritans, nor Jewish men with Samaritan women—claimed He had better water than the well; he had living water. He was speaking about the gospel, the good news of His death and resurrection for sinners, but to her it seemed like nonsense—which is how the gospel sounds to those whose ears have not yet been opened.
Her interest was piqued. If this meant not having to go to the well ever again, to feel the shame she carried everywhere intensified, she could use some.
“Go, call your husband, and come here,” Jesus replied. This surely stung. She wanted the water to avoid confronting her sin, and now Jesus swung at her sin like a heralded boy of summer at a hanging breaking ball. Right upside her head came her transgressions.
And she did what we all are tempted to do when confronted with our wrongdoing. She changed the subject. She tried to talk theology. But Jesus would have none of it. He drew her sins out of her to take them away. He didn’t let up because she would never find more tender, more gracious ears than His.
“I know the Messiah is coming,” she said, “When he comes, He will tell us all things.” And Jesus let loose, “I who speak to you am He.” And the story ended in faith. How do I know? Now unashamed, the woman went and gathered the village to meet her Savior.
And the Savior calls you: “I who speak to you am He.” Here you find those same tender, gracious ears. And here as well He draws your sins out of you, but only to take them away.
Perhaps you’re not seventy-five—or maybe you are—but He also calls you to start walking. He calls you to “walk,” in St. Paul’s words, “in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had” (Romans 4:12), in the newness of life of the baptized (Romans 6:4).
No, He doesn’t call you to walk halfway around the known world. Rather, he calls you to walk where you are, through faith, in your vocations, for your neighbor, set free from yourselves. And one day, when He calls you to your new home, to the eternal Promised Land, you will answer, and you will step through that door Christ made out of death. You will no longer be a pilgrim, a wanderer, a foreigner, but a member of the family. You will be one who is finally home, the justified ungodly, who has found living water in the heat of the day.