The gospel text for this Sunday is Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha [Luke 10:38-42], and certainly there is much that could be said regarding this text. This is especially true since that special post-resurrection title of ‘Lord’ is given to Jesus by the writer, not just once but twice within just these few verses. But even more interesting to the modern reader may be the perspective of the Old Testament reading from Genesis 18[:1-10a, plus, there is also the option of including 10b-14].
The year in which the Gospel according to Luke is the focus is also the year in which there happens to be a significant number of readings from the book of Genesis. It is a good year to look more closely at this foundational book for both testaments. The topic of history is not too popular in modern culture, but the beginning of anything should be truly significant. And the genesis of literally everything should be a very good thing to contemplate.
We will hear on another Sunday of how the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1). On this Sunday, something much more significant happens. The text starts out by saying that the Lord appeared to Abraham. (Abram received the additional syllable to his name in the previous chapter.) Then the text says that three men came to Abraham. They talk as one. Then the text transitions to what the Lord is saying. Then, at the start of chapter 19, the text describes the work of two angels.
This sort of ‘switching’ continues. Later the two ‘men’ say that they were sent by the Lord to destroy both Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, much could be written, and certainly much HAS been written in the past. I have been told by Rev. Dr. Joel Elowsky that one ancient Christian author saw the Trinity in these three men.
In this text and in others, it seems almost like the writer is confused. Is this the Lord working? Is this a man? Is this an angel or messenger? You could answer ‘Yes’ to all these issues! The text cannot completely answer ALL our questions. Hopefully asking those questions will keep us engaged until THE End.
Since we will have the chance to look at the book of Genesis a few more times in the next few months, why not look at the slightly bigger picture at the start? It is a lengthy book, and there are many things that happen within that book that are certainly unique but are retold or imitated elsewhere.
The first man, Adam, is brought up in the Epistle to the Romans when he is compared to Jesus, the second Adam. The flood account is brought up when relating how the end of the world will happen, when Jesus comes for the second time. What about making a more literary connection to Jesus and, more specifically, the four gospel accounts?
Why we have four gospel accounts is usually explained in a chronological way; that, first of all, there was one account, and then somebody added more, and, then, after a lot of work, finally, basically everyone agreed on four. But having the four gospel accounts connect to the four living creatures of God’s throne (man, lion, ox, eagle), as many in the early church have done, means that God as King has four types of authority and can show that authority in four different ways. Instead of four gospel accounts, it becomes, essentially, a fourfold gospel. Sometimes these four kinds of authority in the living creatures are only connected to creation, but I would think that God the Father would want the authority to be seen in the work of his only Son.
Seeing a unity within the four accounts may be helpful to see God’s working in other things. I have recently noticed a possible connection that I would like to share with you. It may eventually develop into something different. But when the four living creatures are connected only to bible passages in Ezekiel and Revelation, that seems to be somewhat shaky ground, and people are not always convinced of that strong theme which runs throughout scripture. So, what about connecting these special, physical appearances of the Lord in Genesis to the four gospel accounts?
In Genesis, there are some appearances where it says that the Lord ‘appeared’ to someone and spoke to them. But there are no physical ramifications given for the Lord’s appearance. The Lord certainly speaks to people like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and others, but he is not visibly present and doing something physically significant or seen as a man or an angel (i.e., a messenger). Those minor ‘appearances’ will not be considered.
Also, in Genesis 21 & 22, a total of three times, the text describes an angel from heaven calling to someone. In chapter 21, an angel of God calls to Hagar (verse 17). In chapter 22, an angel of the Lord calls twice to Abraham (verse 11 & 15). These are not appearances on earth, and, therefore, they will also not be considered.
After the Fall and banishment from Eden, here, I believe, is the first ‘significant’, physical appearance: In Genesis 16:7, the text says that an angel of the Lord found Hagar after she ran away from Abram and his wife. She was pregnant with Abram’s child. The angel talks to Hagar. Hagar says, afterward, regarding this appearance, that ‘You are a God of seeing,’ and that ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me (verse 13; ESV).’ What does this angel of the Lord do with Hagar? He teaches her a few things—what to name her son and what he will be doing.
In Genesis 18 and 19, there is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and that was mentioned above. I think you will agree that these verses relate a significant physical appearance as well. In this case, the purpose of the appearance is to cause destruction.
In Genesis 24, when Abraham is trying to find a wife for his son, he sends his servant back to his own country with the task. Abraham gives the servant the promise that ‘he shall send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there (verse 7).’ Later in the chapter, when the servant finds a wife, the servant worships the Lord and says that ‘the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen (verse 27).’
At the start of Genesis 32, the text immediately starts out by saying that two angels of God met Jacob. Nothing particular is made concerning this sighting. But later in the chapter, when Jacob was alone, a man wrestled with Jacob, and, eventually, the man says to Jacob that he has struggled with God. Jacob says regarding the man that, ‘…I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered (verse 30). That ‘man’ does a miracle that has significant ramifications. He touched Jacob’s hip, and the text says that ‘[t]herefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh (verse 32).’
There are certainly other actions which describe God’s involvement in history. But I see, within these ‘manifestations’, some connections to the four gospel accounts. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus is a teacher, and so I see a connection to the living creature of a man—and the angel teaches Hagar. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is as a fighter, causing difficulties with both friends and enemies, and so I see a connection to a lion—and the angels destroy the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Gospel according to Luke, I see a leader—as the ox leads the plough. And there was the angel leading the servant to find the wife for Isaac. And as an eagle has a big perspective, the miracle described above has great ramifications, up to the present (‘to this day’). And the Gospel according to John also has a large perspective, with 'miracles' that happen up to the present (see John 20:31).
Perhaps laying out these connections was more confusing than helpful. If so, I do apologize. It may have helped if I had given more detail; or there may have been even more confusion! Or you may wish to go in an entirely different direction with these texts. As I said, much could be and has been said about each of these texts. But I firmly believe we have to get past the idea that these four gospel accounts are like the pieces of a puzzle that we use to try to find out what ACTUALLY happened in the life of Jesus. More important is that God, the Father, ACTUALLY saved us by sending us his only Son. And that Son ACTUALLY gave up his life for us.