We’re called to a name change. We’re all familiar with the incident in the Bible where God changes the name of Abram to Abraham. The change seems so small that often times it isn’t even picked up by those reading that text. What’s the difference between Abram and Abraham?
The name Abram, meaning “Exalted Father”, is given to the great patriarch to whom God made the promise that one day he would be the father of all the descendants of the nation of Judaism. But later, when God promises this same man that he is to be the father as well of all nations everywhere, God changes his name to Abraham: “You will no longer be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5).
What is implied in this change? The name Abraham, in its very etymology, connotes a stretching to become something larger; he’s now to be the father of all nations. Abram, the father of one nation, now becomes Abraham (in Hebrew, Ab hamon goyim) the father of all nations, the goyim.
That change doesn’t just stretch a word; it stretches Abraham, a Jew, and redefines his understanding of himself and his mission. He’s no longer to understand himself as the patriarch of just one nation, his own, his ethnic and religious family; he’s to see himself and the faith he is entrusted with as someone and something for all nations. He’s no longer to think of himself as the patriarch of one particular tribe, since God is not a tribal God. Also, he’s no longer to think of just his own tribe as his family, but to think of all others, irrespective of ethnicity or faith, as also his children.
What does that mean for us? TS Eliot might answer that by saying: “Home is where we start from.” Our particular ethnic, religious, cultural and civic roots are precious and important, but they’re not the fully mature tree into which we’re meant to grow. Our roots are where we start from.
I grew up a very sheltered child, in a very close family, in a very enclosed rural environment. We were all of one kind, our neighbours, my classmates, everyone I knew, all of us, we shared a common history, ethnicity, religion, cultural background and set of values, and lived in a young country, Canada.
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