By the Rev. Vicki Garvey
In Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns, Murray Burns worries about the future of his ward Nick if Child Services determines that Murray is an unfit guardian. Precocious Nick, already too prone to particulars, might end up with a family of list makers and that would break Murray’s heart. Murray knows that Nick counts and wants to be sure not only that he doesn’t end up just another cipher, but also that he appreciates the ‘special thing he is’.
Murray’s right. People count. And sometimes we count people. I’m thinking here of family reunions when we tell the old stories of our kin to remind us of who we are and to introduce new family members to the clan. Or of those rituals during which we name aloud and so remember those who have died and now form part of the great cloud of witnesses.
By this time in 1st Chronicles, we might be a little wearied by all those listings of endless names. Murray would throw up his hands at the lists. Or perhaps not. Because that stream of names represents rivulets of stories of people who count. And to the scattered community of Israel in the grim days after the Exile, those names and those stories forge a bridge to the past. The people in the Chronicler’s audience need such memories and connections to the people who have, in a sense, made them who they are.
So do the new Christians in Rome. But Paul, instead of trotting out a genealogy, no matter how edifying, chooses to remind his hearers and over-hearers of one figure from their past: Abraham. Behind his lauding Abraham as model, undergirding the Chronicler’s endless lists, and embedded in our exceedingly brief psalm is the most prominent character of all: the God who is and was and will be faithful to everybody, righteous ancestors and bumblers and list makers.
Who among your ancestors do you ‘reckon as righteous’ [Rom 4.22] and how does that person assist you in your own journey of faith?
Paul, quoting Genesis 15:6, says that Abraham’s “faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness’”. If you take the time to look at the whole of Abraham’s life as told in Gen 12 – 25, what else might you learn about the life of faith, its valleys as well as its peaks?
God of the ancestors, remind me to be grateful for those in my family tree who model for me a life of faithfulness and wonder in your presence. Amen.
The Rev. Vicki Garvey is Associate for Lifelong Christian Formation with the Diocese of Chicago.