Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 8:31-59) transports me to family gatherings on the Dotson side of my family, where stories inevitably turn to the old days when Granny and Grandaddy were living and Sunday afternoons were occasions for dozens of people to descend on their home place for dinner and horseshoe pitching and baseball games in the cow pasture. Most of the stories I hear about Granddaddy center around how stern and severe a man he was, a hard worker who expected hard work from all his children, didn’t appreciate fun and games, and hated Granny’s cats. He would sneak up and kick one off the porch, yelling scat outta here! when the squalling feline was mid-air. He would occasionally raise the ire of his wife, who would give him a fierce tongue-lashing if he did anything to bring harm to one of the children, such as working them in the fields when they were sick. Granddaddy would hang his head and walk away from these chastisements, muttering to himself, I’ve heaved and I’ve set; I’ve heaved and I’ve set, and this is the thanks I get. The best explanation I’ve heard about this expression (and there are several), is that it comes from the work Granddaddy did helping cut and widen the old Drover’s Road, now 74A, up Minehole Gap, after some of the severe flooding of the 19-teens damaged and destroyed parts of the road. To prepare it for its first paving in the early 1920s, Granddaddy and other workers used mules and draught horses to pull sleds with blades in front, cutting through the dirt and root and rock of the land. They would heave the sled a few feet, then set it down. Then heave it a few more feet, and set it down. Sounds like hard work. And probably thankless work, at least if we listen to the rest of Granddaddy’s lamentation, and this is the thanks I get. The other thing that I have learned from the stories is how much he loved the Old Place, the old family farm, where I now live. He loved the land, and loved working the land. He had a great aversion to what he called public work, resenting any of the seasons when the crops failed and he was forced to go into town to work at Beacon Mill. I love hearing all these stories, and every day when I walk through these woods I try to imagine how he and Granny and their children made it through the harsh winters with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no insulation in their house. They were survivors.
Jesus no doubt heard many family stories when he was growing up. Stories of his father and mother and their childhood, stories of his grandfathers and grandmothers, stories of his great- and great-great- and great-great-great grandfathers and grandmothers. All the way back to the patriarch who started it all, Father Abraham. I’m sure when Jesus attended his family gatherings, some of these stories and remembrances would be front and center. Here, in today’s passage, the gathering of Jesus and some fellow Jews ends up in a family argument over who is honoring and who is dishonoring the family name and the patriarch Abraham. The dispute shifts to what it means to have God as a Father, and who is bearing resemblance to that Father and who is not. As is wont to happen in family fights, this one spirals down and intensifies, to the point of some of the Jews accusing Jesus of being a Samaritan and demon-possessed (don’t know which was worse for them), and finally, some picking up stones in an attempt to do him in and cut him off from the family tree. The final straw was Jesus’ claim to have been around before Abraham, in effect, laying claim to not only resembling God, but being there with God from the beginning. Jesus can claim to have done some heaving and some setting right from the start, co-laboring with God in the creation of the world. And this was the thanks he got.
I didn’t get to know my Granddaddy; he died when I was three. I barely remember those Sunday gatherings; I’m told I loved to wear his old hat and would entertain doing impersonations of him. I think about Granddaddy and the 10 sons and 2 daughters he and Granny raised, and I try to figure out what part of him was passed on. Where’s the resemblance? (in character traits – the facial resemblance is easy to see.) And what part of him lives on in me? Maybe there’s a little of his aversion to public work. Hopefully not too much of the feeling of under-appreciation or the need to kick cats. I’d like to think it’s more the love of the land, the love of work on the land. And an abiding faith in the One who created it all.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and to share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.