Genesis, Genealogies, and Guides to Faith
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Our family has spent some time in recent years looking into our family tree. We’ve discovered convicts, struggle, success and tragedy. Like many Australians of European background, we have become aware of our contribution to the displacement of first Australians from their land. This journey also made me rethink my attitude to the various sides of my family. I had grown up thinking my mother’s side was the cultured, religious side, my father’s the working-class farmers of little religion. My exploration taught me otherwise. On my father’s side I found many whose lives expressed a very real faith, and on my mother’s side ancestors who struggled with mental health and the felt-need to escape family ties. Looking back into our history is a spiritual journey. If we as people or societies or churches sever our memory from history, then amnesia makes us something way less than we can be. It also leads to the wrong view that ‘now’ is superior to ‘then.’ We can have the same attitude to the ancient stories of our scripture. Why look at Genesis, when we know it clashes with science, or why read about those ancient patriarchs and matriarchs, or those long genealogies? I remember a missiologist once telling us that in Fiji, it was these genealogies that helped Fijians understand their underlying truth. Same with first Australians. Credibility to their way of thinking comes from links to land and people, history. But like a shallow reading of history or our family tree, a shallow reading of scripture will miss the long history of struggle and the political conflict that sits behind the stories, and especially those ‘boring’ genealogies of both Testaments. So, we get competing ancestry lists of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew compared to the Gospel Luke. They are similar, perhaps, to the way I read the different sides of my family tree, that is until I looked at them in depth. Finally, I saw my ancestors and myself in a different, more honest light. Thus, my comment above that ‘our history is a spiritual journey.’ But the connections with these ancient human stories, myths and legends also speak to us of deeper wisdom and of faith and Spirit. In this sense the women and men of Genesis become our mentors in that we see God in their lives, warts and all. History is a spiritual journey. Today we celebrate the feast day of Barnabas, apostle and martyr. A distant name perhaps, but again one who can be our mentor in these times also. An early Christian convert, Barnabas became known as an Apostle through his hard work and dedication to preaching the gospel and to thepoor. He became a prominent Christian disciple in Jerusalem and along with other followers, sold some land that he owned and gave the proceeds to the community (Acts 4:36–37). Barnabas and Paul undertook missionary journeys, making many converts and he participated in the Council of Jerusalem (c. AD 50). The Christian tradition holds that Barnabas was taken while preaching and martyred by stoning at Salamis, Cyprus, in 61 AD. He is traditionally identified as a champion of the poor and disaffected and as the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. Barnabas’ history opens for us as a spiritual journey, he is, as his name means, a ‘son of encouragement’ or ‘of comfort.’ As we ponder our parish life and ministry and as we begin to return to community, I note that our 2020 Vision opens with the statement:
‘We seek to be an energised people both as spiritual guides and activistscentred in Christ and refreshed from the well of prayer.’ Can we take Barnabas to heart? Can we be daughters and sons of encouragement or comfort? Can we explore our stories afresh, our stories of faith, our personal stories, our community story and that of our land and nation? Is this not our spiritual journey? Prayer. Grant, our loving God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.