Abraham at the Oaks of Ancient Mamre
Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman on the Streets of Contemporary Florida
By Msgr. Kevin Sullivan
How often an ancient Biblical story resonates with a contemporary real life one! This is the case with the story of Abraham’s encounter with three strangers by the oaks of Mamre and the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
On a hot day thousands of years ago, three strangers appeared near oak trees outside the tent of Abraham.
In Abraham’s surprise encounter, he moved toward rather than away from the strangers. He bathed their feet, brought them a meal of fine rolls and choice meat.
In turn, the strangers, after receiving Abraham’s hospitality, revealed that God’s promise would be fulfilled. They announced that Abraham and his wife, Sarah, at an advanced age would give birth to new life. And they promised that by the next year Sarah would have a son.
A speculative question: Had Abraham not welcomed these strangers, would God’s promise have been fulfilled in this way?
Let us move forward more than a few millennia to the contemporary encounter between two strangers in Florida. Instead of welcoming, hospitality, and dialogue there was mistrust, fighting and killing. Instead of new life there was death.
Many issues surround this tragedy. They include guns, vigilantism and neighborhood crime. But our society, with good reason, has focused on the issue of race.
Fifty years ago this summer, President John F. Kennedy sent a historic Civil Rights Bill to Congress, noting that “the time has come…in making it clear to all that race has no place in American life or law.” Sadly, even though the bill became law its promise and hope remains unfulfilled.
Fifty years ago this summer, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech, saying that “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Yet today, fifty years later, although much progress has been made, many issues involving race and strangers remain unresolved. Their resolution cannot be left unattended.
Our core Catholic Christian belief is that every person is made in God’s image and likeness: black, white, yellow or brown; rich or poor; male or female.
As a Church community that comes together to hear God’s word, to praise his name and receive his Body and Blood in Communion, we reflect upon our responsibilities as a community of faith and as faith-filled individuals to welcome the stranger, even, and perhaps especially, strangers of different races and ethnicities.
We are not a Church focused only on Sunday worship and decorated sanctuaries. Similar to our Savior, we live enmeshed in an imperfect, messy world as we journey to God’s kingdom.
Our values, actions and institutions can make this world more compassionate and just if we commit ourselves to doing so.
Bearing in mind the tragic deadly end when strangers met in Florida and the living-giving end when strangers met at Mamre, let us ask ourselves a few questions:
What attitudes about race and ethnicity do I harbor that cause divisions?
What actions and activities do I engage in that divide?
What do I do to build bridges between strangers and loved ones alike?
In My Family,
How do I foster greater appreciation for the stranger and the stranger’s talents and gifts?
How do I create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all?
How do I buffer my family from negative counsel and experiences?
What do the institutions with which I am associated do to divide us from one another?
What do they do to reconcile us?
What do I do to foster institutional decisions that reconcile, decrease inequality and create more opportunity and openness?
There are no simple answers to these questions. Yet this is no excuse for allowing complex issues to paralyze us or prevent action by individuals and communities.
In the encounter by the Oaks of Mamre, strangers were welcomed and received; the promise of new life was announced and fulfilled.
In the encounter in Florida, a stranger was neither welcomed nor received. Instead, mistrust, killing and death ensued.
The prophets told Israel:
“I put before you life and death – and then direct: Choose life that you and your children might.”
Abraham’s example provides us with a similar lesson:
“Welcome the stranger – that both of you may live and God’s promise of life be fulfilled in you and your children.”