Read Genesis 23
Focus on verse 11-15
Sarah has died – Abraham desires to purchase a burial site. This chapter describes that rather strange and complex process of negotiating a price for the site. It gives us a little insight into Hittite culture as well as an impression of how well Abraham had come to understand the culture in which he now lived. As we read the text it would seem that Ephron is willing to give the field to Abraham, yet Abraham seems insistent on paying the full price for it. Why, we might wonder, did he not just accept it as a gift? Quite possibly because it was not a being given as a gift. This was just the way deals were negotiated in that culture.
“No, my lord, hear me: I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it. In the sight of the sons of my people I give it to you. Bury your dead.” Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” Ephron answered Abraham, “My lord, listen to me: a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” (v. 11-15)
We live in a world where we increasingly find ourselves running up against people who come from different cultural backgrounds than what we have become accustomed to. What most of us do not realize is how deeply entrenched we are in our own culture, and how blind we are to that reality until we come face to face with someone from a vastly different culture who is similarly entrenched. At this point one of two things can happen… we either encounter serious conflict as we attempt to insist that the other accommodate our own culture, or we discover a wonderful opportunity to broaden our “category width”.
Whenever we encounter something new we place it in one of three categories in our memory bank: Right, Wrong, or Different. Some of us are very quick to place things in the right or wrong categories. As we become familiar with and understand other cultures we find that some of the things we initially thought were just “wrong” are really only “different” and some of the things about our own culture that we have thought were categorically “right” are really only “different”. As this happens our category width expands and we become – what some might call more culturally aware, which essentially means – less opinionated and more understanding of cultures other than our own.
Abraham was not a Hittite, but he understood how to respectfully deal with the Hittites. As a committed follower of Jesus I will always be more comfortable with other followers of Jesus, but it is also incumbent upon me to respectfully relate to those who do not yet follow Jesus because that was a huge part of what made Jesus attractive to people. If we do not also learn to emulate that aspect of His life, perhaps we should not be surprised when people are offended by the way we present His message of eternal life?