A marriage proposal

Proper 9A (RCL)
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

The reading from Genesis comes for a longer reading of Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac. Abraham’s servant goes to Abraham’s homeland to find a wife for Abraham. Abraham has absolutely forbidden Isaac to go back (would this undo God’s promise to Abraham when he left home in the first place?), and does not want Isaac to marry a Caananite girl. Abraham’s servant takes ten camels loaded with gifts on the journey. He plans to ask the first girl he sees for a drink, and if she offers to water the camels as well, then, she’s the one.

Imagine what a stir ten camels made in the village — this was someone impressive passing through. Rebekah offers him a drink, and then offers to water the camels. That must have taken some time: ten camels can probably drink a lot of water. When she is done watering the camels, the servant puts a ring in her nose, and bracelets on her arm. I wonder what her reaction was (try reading that bit liturgically without smiling).

The long and short of the story is she agrees to go back with Abraham’s servant to be Isaac’s wife. We are told that Isaac loves her — it’s more than just an arranged marriage. I find it remarkable that Rebekah is given a choice; “will you go with him?” And she is the one who ends up repeating Abraham’s journey: she becomes the model for faithfulness to God’s promises after Abraham. Her family blesses her with the same blessing God gave to Abraham; may your offspring be thousands of myriads.

I also find it fascinating that this scene gets repeated a number of times. Jacob meets Rachel at the well. Moses meets Zipporah at the well. Did men go down to the well to watch the women work, to see who would make a good spouse? Women around the world draw the water for their families.

Marriage would serve as a metaphor for the relationship of God to God’s people. The well is a place where a basic human need is met. God’s people meet God at the well. Fast forward to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. He meets her at the well, and asks for a drink! This is a marriage proposal — perhaps between God and the Samaritan woman’s people. After a long theological dispute, Jesus asks the woman to go and bring her husband. I have no husband, she replies. Samaria has been conquered five times, and made to worship the gods of her conquerors, and the god they are worshiping now is not theirs (since they aren’t the true Israel). The woman invites Jesus to her village, and they entertain him, just as happens in all the marriage proposal stories at the well.

Abraham wanted to make sure Isaac didn’t marry one of “those sorts” of girls — Caananites. Jesus brings a marriage proposal from God exactly to one of “those sorts” of girls — the Samaritan woman who has had five husbands. No wonder people didn’t know what to make of Jesus. John came fasting and not drinking, and people thought he had a demon. Jesus came partying, and people said, “Look, a drunkard and glutton; a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The smart and well bred didn’t get it, so God revealed God’s marriage proposal to the simple, those heavey laden and weary.

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