By Amy Whisenand Krall

Abraham and Mary: A Prayer for the New School Year

As I enter my third year of teaching undergraduates and take stock of the last two, I find that Abraham and Mary offer me a challenge and invitation.

Two years ago, God called my husband and me to move across the country — to a city neither one of us had ever visited — so that I could start a new position at an institution where the only people I knew were the members of the search committee! My new colleagues warmly welcomed the strangers in their midst, showing up to help unload our PODS container at 7 a.m., before the summer heat got into the triple digits.

My new friends and their hospitality got me thinking about Abraham in Genesis 18. Though he was a stranger, he still offered hospitality to strangers. In Genesis 18, we find Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, sitting in the entryway of his tent in the “heat of the day” (18:1). He looks up and sees three strangers. Even though he too is a stranger in a new land, Abraham jumps up and runs (in spite of the heat) to meet them. Abraham, who had left family and friends behind in Ur to follow God’s promises of faithfulness and at no young age (Gen 12), falls to the ground before these strangers as his old bones ache and invites them to receive a feast.

Even though I was a stranger in this new city, I wanted to offer hospitality to students — they, too, are strangers in a new place. Hospitality has been one of the frames for my thinking about pedagogy; inviting students into an encounter with the Bible, setting before them the feast of details and exegesis, showing them and demonstrating the tools they need to analyze the text and wrestle with it, encouraging them to articulate their views and sharpen their understanding through writing and discussion.

However, my capacity for hospitality has been stretched in these last two years. We moved in 2021, while everyone was still struggling to figure out how to live in light of the COVID pandemic and its aftermath. I found myself faced with new pedagogical questions: how to teach online, how to lead Zoom discussion when everyone hates breakout rooms, how to get to know students when everyone turns off their cameras and I stare into a geometric void of blank tiles. Once we came back to the classroom, after teaching to the little green dot on my computer, I struggled to make eye contact again with students in real life. Above all, I found myself asking how I could teach these students who are barely hanging on in their own deserts of insecurity and instability. The responsibility of being the host weighed on me.

Earlier this year, just as I began to feel more at home in my classroom, ChatGPT entered the scene. Once again I was asking unexpected, new questions: What kind of boundaries should I (and can I) set with AI? How do I encourage students to do their own thinking? Why would students use AI in the first place?  Suddenly, I found myself feeling like a rejected host, offering gifts of reading and writing that I had received, only to find that my “guests” didn’t want the full meal, and even seemed in a hurry to get away from the table.

I’m not Abraham. The last two years have shown me that I fall short of his example, energy, and eagerness in extending hospitality in Genesis 18. In my striving to adapt to a new place and new times, I sometimes feel more like Martha in Luke 10:38-42—overwhelmed, harried, frustrated. I empathize with her when she asks Jesus to rebuke Mary. I long to sit down at Jesus’ feet to learn. Instead I am called upon to craft a new syllabus policy — again — because I’m the host — er, professor.

Even so, when I reflect on these last two years, I am also reminded of the hospitality my husband and I have received from the church. After we arrived in this new city, we began looking for a church. Our current church caught us by surprise. We had visited a couple times and met a few people before we spent a few weeks visiting other churches. When we visited again, the couple who sat in the pew in front of us turned around and said, “Nice to see you again.” They asked us how our church search was going, and they invited us over for dessert and games. Other members also welcomed us by inviting us into fellowship and friendship over Bible study, dinner, and games.   

We discovered that some of our new friends were also new to the city. Fellow strangers, they deeply understood the value of hospitality. Others of them had parents and even grandparents at the church. The friends with roots surprised me. In my experience, stability and roots often work against the discipline of hospitality.

Over the course of my academic pursuits, I have moved in and out of communities. My husband and I had left a supportive and encouraging church community, and I have received much hospitality, encouragement, and nurture from several churches over the years. I have already had years as Mary; now it is time to jump up like Abraham to serve the stranger, so I thought. Surely, it was my turn — my role — to provide hospitality.

However, the hospitality of our current church has reminded me that Abraham wasn’t always “Abraham” either. Back when he was called “Abram,” the Lord invited him to a covenant ceremony to assure Abram that God would in fact give him and Sarah a son (Gen 15). Abram prepared the covenant ceremony, cutting the animals in two to let the blood drain into a ditch. But as he sat and waited for the Lord, he fell asleep. The Lord showed up and, instead of them both walking through the blood of the animals, as was typical of a covenant ceremony, the Lord alone passed through the blood, taking on the full responsibility of the covenant. Abram slept and received the Lord’s promise of faithfulness — the promise of grace (Gen 15:12).

To be like Abraham in Genesis 18, I first need to be like Abram in Genesis 15. To be like Mary in Luke 10, I need to recognize that Jesus is the true host at the table — in my classroom — and to receive his gracious and empowering gift.

And so I find myself starting the new term with a new prayer in my heart: Lord, thank you for the challenge and invitation given through Abraham and Mary. When the next thing arises to make me feel like a stranger, may I have the humility, in that moment, to receive hospitality and to take joy in offering it. May I become like Mary; may I be both Abram and Abraham.

About the Author

Amy Whisenand Krall, ThD, is Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies and Assistant Program Director in the School of Humanities, Religion, and Social Science at Fresno Pacific University. Her research focuses on the role of singing in Christian maturity according to the letter to the Colossians. She completed her doctorate at the Divinity School at Duke University, where she studied New Testament with an interdisciplinary focus in Theology and the Arts, particularly music. Before her doctoral studies, Amy studied for her BA at Whitworth University, taught English at a vocational school in Germany on a Fulbright grant, and completed her MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary.

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