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I Swear to God

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will get a wife for my son Isaac.”
– Genesis 24:1-4 abbreviated (NRSV)

Well now, that’s one way to swear an oath: hand to thigh in the name of God. Quite different from right hand to the sky. Or hand to the Bible. Or hand on the heart.

The intimacy and power and high stakes of the whole scene might make us blush: The servant swearing the oath has his hand literally caught under the man with power over him. At the same time, Abraham has his life and legacy—his femoral artery, his loins—in the palm of his servant.

In the world of etymology, a theory exists that the word “testimony” shares a Latin root with the word “testicles”: testis, meaning “witness.” Some language lovers theorize that testis took on a figurative meaning: “testicles” as a “testament” to cis manhood.

This titillating word history may or may not be true—it’s not a stretch to say that Abraham’s testicles bear witness to the servant’s oath—but the real provocation of it all is the idea that we hold another’s vulnerability in our hands every time we make a promise. Every time we say, “I’ve got you on this,” we choose to be caught up in another’s wellbeing even as we cup their tenderness in our palm.

As I watch the swearing-in of witnesses before the U.S. House Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection, I yearn to believe that each person raising their right hand—and each person listening to their testimony—is intimately aware of the power and vulnerability at stake.

But much more than that, I yearn to believe, to know, to live in a world where we all recognize the very high stakes of holding and being held by one another’s lives.

Prayer: You call us to love one another. Forgive us for too casually promising to care. Forgive us for too carelessly ignoring the stakes. Do not shield us from the intimate vulnerabilities of community. 

written for the Daily Devotional

Just for Us

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”
– Acts 11:1-3 (NRSV) 

When white slaveholders required enslaved Africans and African Americans to attend pro-slavery worship services, their intention was to maintain the status quo of slavery through Bible stories and the name of Jesus. Enslaved people interpreted a different message from those stories: freedom. Jesus became both the faith and the code for freedom. “Steal away to Jesus,” they sang. Steal away to freedom.

Freedom was not the slaveholders’ intended message. To the slaveholders, the name of Jesus was supposed to teach obedience to the enslaved; freedom was reserved just for the slaveholders. 

But freedom just for a few is not freedom. 

Just like the good news of Jesus just for a few (or its counterpart, the-good-news-of-Jesus-for-all-but-exactly-like-we-tell-you) is not the good news of Jesus. 

“Why did you go visit them, Peter? Why did you affirm that they can have the good news of Jesus, too? We thought Jesus was just for us.”

Why do they get Jesus? 

Why do they get freedom? 

We thought it was just for us. Just for us to determine and distribute the good news of Jesus. Just for us to have and assign freedom. Just for us to receive grace for our sins and crimes. Just for us to grocery shop without being terrorized. Just for us to legislate the capabilities of a uterus.   

Just for us. Not for them. 

But “just for us” is not justice. “Just for us” is not freedom. “Just for us” is not Jesus. 

“We thought Jesus was just for us,” said the believers to Peter in ancient Jerusalem. But when Peter explained his experience in Caesarea—how God gave visions to all people, how the Holy Spirit baptized circumcised and uncircumcised alike—the believers silenced their “just for us” complaints … and they rejoiced that God is for all. 

Prayer: God, have mercy! We cling so tightly to “ours” and anger so quickly over “theirs.” Forgive our possessiveness over freedom, over grace, over life, over Jesus himself. Multiply goodness for all on earth as it is in heaven.

written for the Daily Devotional

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