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Put a Ring On It!

Pentecost 5, Common Lectionary Year A

Genesis 24

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Also reflection by Lisa Byer de Wever – It’s a Wrap

Introduction to the text.
The book of Genesis does not linger long over the cosmos’ birthing
on the breath of God; very quickly the stories turn to one family,
upon whom God bestows a complicated blessing
– to become a people who will bless the world.
The family is that of Abraham and Sarah,
and Hagar, and their descendants.
The begetting of Abraham’s two sons is a soap opera
worthy of a Netflix costume drama,
with cross-desert treks to escape famine,
jealousies, infertility, near-death trauma, you name it.
So right away we know this blessing of God
is precarious, yet precious.
We pick up the saga this morning,
after Sarah has died, old and full of years,
and her son, Isaac, an emotionally scarred soul, is still unmarried.

At first blush, the story the folk of Ste-Genny’s will read
seems inconsequential,
an ancient tale of a culture
where matchmaking and bride prices,
and camels and nose-rings
make it feel like it has nothing to do with us…..
but it does…
As you listen, to this fireside tale,
remember to laugh when it’s funny,
yawn when the old servant fusses
and repeats himself,
and most importantly,
keep your ears pricked for the woman in this tale.
She is more than she seems….

Scripture Reading: Genesis 24

Reflections on the Torah: Its a Wrap – Lisa Byer de Wever

Reflections ~ Put a Ring on It! ~ Rev Dr Elisabeth R. Jones

What a privilege to have Lisa share her story
about her head wrap,
and the significance it has for her
as a descendant of Africans enslaved in the Americas,
and as a woman making spiritually significant choices
with something that was once seen
as a vestige of oppression.
It’s powerful testimony,
and, as Lisa said, it emerged when we noticed
the Beyoncé moment in the text…
the bit about liking it and putting a ring on it.
Some sort of match-making, obviously,
sealed with a nose ring.
Which, if this were a story from the Indian subcontinent
would make more sense; nose rings are bridal gifts;
the more bejewelled the wealthier the groom,
but this is a Mesopotamian saga, a biblical one,
and nose-rings
are never mentioned anywhere else in these tales from Torah,
and it is not a feature of Jewish or Christian marriage rituals.
It’s a midrashic gap I want to mind,
which I will in a moment, but first I want to deal with
the OTHER question that bugged me about this tale;

What does it have to do with us?
It is patriarchal…. Abraham wants to secure the dynastic line,
so he sends back to the old country for a suitable bride for Isaac,
(read bloodlines, ethnicity, socio-economic status)

The story gets worse with Laban’s not so subtle ploy
to get Abraham’s steward to part with more moolah before
taking Laban’s sister off to an unknown future with a man she’s
never seen.

We could have, maybe should have,
chosen a more inspiring story,….
except sometimes Netflix-worthy sagas in our Scriptures
are valuable for exposing themes
we might not otherwise risk exploring
in the context of worship;
like patriarchy,
which we think we’ve left behind, but haven’t,
and like the continued ways in which
women’s behaviour and dress,
and who they speak to, and who they veil for,
and how- or even whether- they get to make life choices,
continue to be the subject of often sexist scrutiny,
and prejudicial comment and judgment.

Way too much of the accumulated commentary on this tale
focusses on Abraham’s precarious blessing,
and if Rebekah is noticed at all,
it’s to be named as the vessel, the pawn, the one done-to,
without actually noting the wily way
she circumvents convention
to hold on to her own destiny.

If we don’t read these texts carefully,
and let them challenge us
about the ways in which we perpetuate
systems of oppression,
then we’re missing the point of these tales from Torah.
They are not stories of saints who get it right all the time,
but of people who keep getting it wrong, just like us!
They are cautionary tales, reminding us of how precarious
the God-Dream of justice, equity, abundance has always been,
and they are inspirational tales
reminding us of the subtle, often subversive ways in which
God’s future gets worked out, away from the spotlight.

Which brings me back to Rebekah and her nose-ring.
Why do we know she was given that ring, and those bracelets?
Why of all the details these story-tellers left out,
is this detail left in?
I don’t know, but, in good feminist midrashic fashion,
allow me to fill the gap with a story.

Rebekah’s nose-ring.
When Rebekah was old and full of years,
she called her granddaughter Dinah to her tent.
Carefully she unwrapped a blue silken veil,
to reveal a ruby stud, with a twisted
golden cord, a hand’s length, from which hung a filigree feather.
“That’s beautiful, Bubbe Rivkah!” cried Dinah,
touching it carefully.
“What is it?”Without saying anything, Rebekah picked up the stud, and attached it to the piercing in her left nostril, and pulled the cord to her ear, where she twisted it with a strand of her hair, the feather nestling at her neck.
She smiled at Dinah.
“This is what a promise and a hope look like, Dinah.
The men of this family, they have a star-spangled promise
from God,
of nationhood, of influence, of purpose.
But they too often forget that this God promise
won’t be fulfilled without a yes from us.
A “Yes” from women choosing to bind ourselves
to a future we cannot imagine,
but one we believe to be held in the heart of God.”

She took off the ring,
and wrapped it once more in the silken veil,
and put it into Dinah’s hands, saying,
“Dinah, take it, this doesn’t belong to my sons,
nor to your brothers, but to you.
It belongs to the women who will come after you,
the women who will choose
a promise and a hope and a future
held in the heart of God.”
And so it was that the Nose Ring of Rebekah,
was passed down,
through Dinah,
to Rahab, to Ruth,
to Miriam of Nazareth,
and to every woman
even, and especially when
she is maligned, or misjudged
for her power to choose her God-given future.”


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