Last week, I wrote about the genealogy of Noah’s descendants. Following that is the story of the tower of Babel which does make it into the lectionary. Genesis 11:9-32 is another genealogy which takes us from Noah’s son Shem up to Abram and begins the story of a specific family of faith which we will follow for many generations.
This genealogy is also quoted in Luke 3:34-38 as a way of linking Jesus to Abram. That link was not the original intent of this text, but it suits the author of Luke’s purposes in giving Jesus credibility within the Abrahamic tradition.
At the end of fifteen generations, we come to Abram. Abram marries Sarai. She is the only woman named in this genealogy. The first thing (after her parentage) that we are told about Sarai is that she is barren. It contrasts what has been and sets up what is to come. The creation has been created with all its abundance of creatures. Even the flood couldn’t wipe out that abundance. Now one of the main characters in the story is unable to bear children.
I imagine how devastating her barrenness would be for Sarai. In a world where women were valued for their fertility, I wonder how she was treated by Abram and her in-laws. Did she endure repeated rapes as Abram tried to get her pregnant? Was she the one forced to work the hardest and eat only the scraps left from everyone else’s meal? Was she snubbed and shamed in her family because she had no children? I suspect that Sarai felt like nothing in her life could change and she would be trapped in a life of violence. I wonder how Sarai found hope in the midst of her circumstances.
Many people find themselves trapped in lives that they did not choose or feel like they have no choice. It seems to me that it would be difficult to maintain hope and have a sense of God’s abundance when there are so many barriers. I’m thinking about people who access the food and clothing shelf at the church where I minister. Many find themselves in situations they didn’t choose. There are mental health, addiction challenges and physical barriers to employment compounded by criminal records, lack of education and racism. I wonder how many of these folks would find it hard to maintain hope and a sense of God’s abundance.
There is a disconnect in the biblical story between the abundance of creation and Sarai’s barrenness. Sarai seems like a small island of barrenness in the vast abundance of God’s creation. But as we go on with the story over the next few weeks, we will find that this is not a permanent state and that Sarai is able to participate in the abundance of God’s creation.