Today's texts focussed on Abraham's hospitality. The Jewish text told the story of the three visitors whom Abraham welcomed to his tent, giving them rest, water and food. The Rabbinic commentary on this was that the incident happened shortly after Abraham had been circumcised and that in spite of his pain he was earnest in offering hospitality. The Qur'anic text was more or less the same story, this time with the angels telling Sarah she would have a child. The Christian text was quite different. it was from Hebrews and spoke of the need for mutual love within the community and hospitality without. For me the two Abrahamic texts talked of trusting in God even in the face of the impossible. Our Muslim presenter saw the possibility of a child for a couple past child bearing age as a death and resurrection event, even preparing readers for future deaths and resurrections, something which had more resonance for Christians than Jews.
Although the Genesis scripture is also Christian, the Christian text was from Hebrews, with only an allusion to the angelic visitors but no direct mention of Abraham. It did underline the need for hospitality in a divided community, a community of Jewish Christians who were in danger of backsliding into old Jewish ways and neglecting Christian belief, ritual and community. It was in this context that the author asked for mutual love, compassion and hospitality.
At these sessions I'm aware of Jews and Muslims having a similar approach to scripture. They seem to like to analyse the text, looking for root meanings in words and constantly asking questions about its meaning. While scripture scholars no doubt do this in Christianity, for me the approach to scripture is more reflective and prayerful - what is the meaning behind the words, what does it tell us about God, Jesus, human beings and how we should live. To analyse words can be interesting enough but to question the exact meaning of words and how factual the information is doesn't seem as important as gleaning the religious message. And in this case hospitality was at the heart of all our scriptures.
The very fact of being part of a study day was a lesson in hospitality in itself. Not only was I able to participate in a workshop but I was able to attend two other workshops. One of them was on some rabbinic understandings of Jesus which weren't very complementary, one story suggesting that in eternity Jesus was being punished with boiling excrement! A friend was concerned I would be insulted by some of the suggestions but our leader was at pains to stress how the stories reflected a growing distance between Christianity and Judaism and had to be understood in this context - not too dissimilar from some of the theology of Hebrews when Jesus is compared to the Jewish High Priest and his death with Temple sacrifice. I wasn't at all insulted. We need to be honest about our texts and to recognise the historical circumstances that gave rise to them and the reality that is reflected in them. it's just a shame that once set down in words they can be taken literally and used to destroy rather than build relationships. Thank goodness for scriptural reasoning and our ability to be honest and straightforward with one another, not dodging difficult texts but not allowing them to weaken relationships.