The Genesis:3 Project
I will bless those who bless you; those who curse you I will curse; and in you all the families of earth will be blessed. Genesis 12:3
I have had the good fortune to know some extraordinary people in my lifetime. By that statement, I mean to say these individuals are possessed of qualities that make it feel like a privilege to be considered any measure of a friend. The most precious gift we can bestow is our affection – it is an affirmation of the worth in our eyes of the other person.
Some few of these folks are public figures and most of them are very private figures. What they have in common is that they themselves do not believe that there is anything special about their fondness. They share it freely because they recognize something worthwhile in the object of their appreciation.
They are in contrast to bully boys and mean girls who pass judgment on whether someone is worthy of being included among their friends. That is to say, what makes them extraordinary is not that they like me. (If anything, it calls their judgment into question!) What makes them extraordinary is their openness to others as they are.
Sometimes you can catch a glimmer of that quality in small acts. A friend of mine holds a position of prestige and authority. I find myself in early-morning meetings with him with some frequency. Inevitably, he needs a second cup of tea during the course of the conversation. He never fails to ask the people on either side of him if he can get them a refill as well. It is a small thing that affirms the needs of others and makes him a servant of his respect for them. When I notice his name in public reports, I always hear, “Can I get you something” as part of his ethos.
Sometimes you can catch that quality on large display. Another friend of mine never begins a conversation without asking after the state of my soul. I admit to a certain embarrassment that I have not been able to cultivate this gentle concern as part of my daily encounters, but even when I don’t feel like giving her an answer, I am moved by every opportunity to respond. She is someone who has lived in modest privilege and with her share of troubles, but she leans into a generous nature by her genuine concern for others.
Truthfully, I have known people whose circumstances are similar to these two friends who have not cultivated such extraordinary qualities. I can afford to be less specific by simply saying that they consistently put their own needs ahead of the needs of others – not so unusual – but have convinced themselves in the process that they are entirely justified. What moves them from tolerable to insufferable is their sense of entitlement.
I hear a lot of people invoke the verse from Genesis above as they discuss their relationship with Jews, the Jewish people or the State of Israel. They are of the belief that an incantation of support for the (Jewish) children of Abraham is a road to personal blessing. Often, they invoke this verse against political opponents to suggest that God intervenes in directly in public policy debates. They misunderstand, in my opinion, the mantle bestowed upon Abram (later Abraham) in this encounter. He is commanded “to be a blessing.” Before those who bless become blessed and those who curse become cursed, the man himself has some consequential work to do. Being a blessing – as opposed to reciting a blessing or acting out a blessing – means cultivating qualities of respect, compassion and attention to the needs of others. It is the work of a lifetime, and it is not easy to achieve.
Our public landscape is littered right now with claimants to entitlements. From what I hear, the infection has spread to the private sector and, more alarming, the micro-communities in which we live. An acquaintance used the excuse of New Year greetings to taunt me about “failed Democratic presidents.” The next president, who will apparently repair the damage of his predecessors, began by publicly shaming and excluding a news network for reporting a story he believes to be fake. These small and large examples do not encourage blessed behavior in others, never mind the elevation “to be a blessing.”
To be a blessing is to encourage others to emulate your example and thus share in the spiritual satisfaction. To be a blessing means that those who reject your kindnesses will themselves encourage rejection of their own example.
And, honestly, that’s the meaning of the end of the verse. That’s how it can be that through Abram – or any other embodiment of blessing – all people come to be blessed.