Genesis 24, Psalm 46, Matthew 11:25-30
July 4, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
He was in his forties. She was in her teen”s. They were the most unlikely man and woman to get married. He was raised by a protective mother, a good man, but was a type who enjoyed to be alone than to hang around with guys, and easily influenced by other people. He was a kind of man an old fashioned mother would say, "I wish he was a girl." She, on the other hand, was raised by his big brother. She was generous and kind hearted, but independent, physically strong, highly spirited, adventurous, but also cunning and manipulative. She was a kind of woman an old fashioned father would say, "I wish she was a boy." Isaac and Rebecca had not even seen each other before they got married. But he fell in love with her right away when he saw her. This is a story of Rebecca, who became the mother of Jacob who later became known as Israel.
Our God is the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and of Jesus Christ born of Mary. The history of our religious tradition is about the faith of our fathers and mothers, a partnership of men and women. I wanted to remember Rebecca today partly because we have neglected stories of some amazing women in the Bible far too long. Rebecca was beautiful and friendly, but she was not a wallflower. She was generous and kind, but she was also strong in body and spirit, smart and cunning. She played more important role shaping the history of the Hebrew people than Isaac.
Abraham sent an emissary, whose name was Eliezer, to find a wife for Isaac in his home country. The first thing that Eliezer noticed about Rebecca was her generosity. She gave him water when asked, and watered his ten camels as well without being asked. This was no mean act of kindness. The well was deep, often hundreds of feet deep in those hot and dry countries, covered with a heavy stone slab which covered the top of the well to protect it from robbers and elements. To fetch water, they used a jug which was a heavy earthen ware attached to a long cord. It took strong muscles to draw water in those days. This is why the Bible termed the acts of offering water to strangers as extraordinary kindness. Rebecca”s own son Jacob married Rachel who also gave water to Jacob when he was a homeless stranger. Jesus gave high praises to a Samaritan woman who gave him a drink at the well. So when Rebecca gave water not only to Eliezer but also to his ten camels, he was impressed. She was kind to a total stranger. He was so impressed by her that he decided right there and then that this young woman was to be the bride for Isaac.
However, the next chapter of this episode is a surprise. It reveals that Rebecca was not only kind and physically strong, but also was she an adventurous, independent minded, and strong willed woman. When Eliezer proposed a marriage for Rebecca on behalf of Isaac, her mother and brother immediately consented. But they wanted to ask how Rebecca would feel about this. This was very unusual, because, four thousand years ago, women had no say on the matters of their marriages. Marriages were arranged often for business and political reasons and the brides” wishes were beside the point. So the fact that mother and brother felt obliged to ask Rebecca”s opinion showed a considerable degree of respect for Rebecca. It is easy to guess how she had been like growing up. With her intelligence and strong will, she must have earned high esteem from her adult members of the family even when she was very young.
The scene that followed is equally astonishing. Rebecca”s mother and brother wanted 10 days to prepare the young woman for the wedding. But Rebecca said, "Yes, I will marry Isaac, and I want go away right now." as though to say, "My mind”s made up. Why wait." She was quite ready to leave home right away to an unknown country and marry a man whom she never met, demonstrating an adventurous spirit bordering recklessness.
But the Bible does not hide the darker side of humans. It is the book about God, and no human person is described as perfect. Rebecca is not spared from brutal truthfulness of the Bible either. The darker side of her intelligence and determination surfaced as cunning and manipulative in a story for next Sunday. She didn”t hesitate deceiving her aging husband to get what she wanted.
Rebecca reminds me of the mother of a well known Canadian virtuoso pianist, John Kimura Parker. The baby John and his mother Keiko used to come to the Play Group – "Baby Band" as we called it at my pastoral charge in Vancouver. Before Keiko got married with John Sr., they had corresponded for two years. They decided to get married without ever meeting face to face. When the baby John came, she decided that the little John was going to be just like his uncle Ed, who was a famous piano teacher in Vancouver. She went to the University of B.C. to study music, got a music degree and a qualification as a piano teacher by the time the little John was five. So the poor boy had two piano teachers, uncle Ed and Mom at home. Now John Kimura Parker is a number one concert pianist in Canada today, and you can hear him on the CBC Radio often.
At any rate, here is a story of a woman who played an important role in shaping the history of Israel. Rebecca was so far away from the image of a nice woman – "sugar and spice and all that nice." But I believe it is time we appreciated tough women and the roles they play. When I was working for the Canadian Council of Churches, I had an opportunity briefly to work with Mother Teresa. Frankly speaking, I did not enjoy working with her. She was tough, uncompromising, and a skilful manipulater. Of course, that was why she achieved so much. She was tough. I think it is about time we appreciated tough women, just like we admire tough men. Jesus said, we must be like "crafty like a snake, and gentle like a dove." Thank God for Rebecca, who showed us how to be filled with tender love at the same time having a tough mind.