IVP - Strangely Dim - As Franciscan (or Jewish, Or Muslim) As We Wanna Be (#francisforpresident)

October 31, 2012

As Franciscan (or Jewish, Or Muslim) As We Wanna Be (#francisforpresident)

My name is David A. Zimmerman, and I approved this post.

My friend Jon Boyd turned me on to the following story from a recent IVP publication.

When Abraham sat at his Tent-door, according to his custome, waiting to entertain strangers; he espied an old man stopping and leaning on his staffe, weary with age and travell coming towards him, who was an hundred years of age; he received him kindely, washed his feet, provided supper, caused him to sit down; but observing that the old man eat and prayed not, nor begged for a blessing on his meat, asked him Why he did not worship the God of heaven? The old man told him, that he worshiped the fire only, and acknowledged no other God: At which answer, Abraham grew so zealously angry, that he thrust the old man out of his tent, and exposed him to all the evils of the night, and an unguarded condition: When the old man was gone, God called to Abraham and asked him where the stranger was? he replied, I thrust him away because he did not worship thee; God answered him, I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonoured me, and couldest not thou endure him one night, when he gave thee no trouble? Upon this, saith the story, Abraham fetcht him back again, and gave him hospitable entertainment and wise instruction[.] Go thou and do likewise, and thy Charity will be rewarded by the God of Abraham.


You might reasonably assume that this story would be found in one of our Likewise books, which has as its theme Jesus' punctuation of the parable of the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise." It's actually from a recent release in our IVP Academic line--The Unfolding Mystery of the Divine Name, by Michael P. Knowles. I suppose it's worth reiterating that Likewise Books has not trademarked the phrase "Go and do likewise"; the more in the public domain the phrase is (along with its allusions to loving your neighbor), the better, I always say. (I've never actually said that.)

Here we see the phrase attributed not to Jesus in the first century but to the voice of Yahweh, in conversation with Abraham, the original patriarch. Knowles traces the provenance of the story, quoting t from a 1657 book by an Anglican cleric, who had apparently lifted it from a 1651 publication by a Jewish writer in Amsterdam, Solomon Ibn Verga. He in turn had borrowed the story from Muslim poet Saadi, who lived and wrote in the thirteenth century. The broad utility of the story demonstrates the common lineage of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Father Abraham, it seems, did in fact have many sons.

Jon thought I would like the story because of Likewise, and I do. But I was also a little bummed, because I really wanted the story to trace back to the Franciscans, so that I could tie it in to my campaign to get St. Francis of Assisi elected president next week (#francisforpresident). But what is a campaign without a little spinning of facts? Change the name Abraham to Friar Angelo, perhaps, and change God to St. Francis, and the whole story would fit quite comfortably in Little Flowers.

Such deception is a tactic with considerable precedent in presidential campaigns. But I don't suppose we have to resort to it. The truth is, the spirit of the story is transcendent: as we've already seen, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike have repeated it approvingly, and it certainly aligns comfortably with Francis' approach to hospitality. I alluded to it in an earlier post, but here's Jamie Arpin-Ricci's full retelling from The Cost of Community.

Once, while Francis was away, a group of bandits confronted and threatened the other friars, demanding that they give them something to eat. Brother Angelo boldly stepped forward and rebuked them: "You wicked men! It's not enough that you would shamelessly rob others of the fruits of their hard labor, but now you have the audacity to demand food from us friars--food designated to support the servants of God! You should be ashamed!"

Angry and insulted, but ultimately fearing God's judgment, the bandits left empty-handed.

Later that day, when Francis returned, he was carrying a sack of bread and a jug of wine that had been given to him to share among the brothers. When Angelo proudly told Francis of his brave rebuke, he was shocked to find that it made Francis very upset. "How could you have acted so cruelly to our brothers?" Francis demanded. "You know that sinners are more likely to return to the Father though meekness than a harsh scolding. Have I not made it clear? 'Let whoever may approach us, whether friend or foe, thief or robber, be received kindly.' "

Taking the sack of bread and jug of wine, the only food available to the brothers that day, Francis gave them to Angelo and commanded him to find the robbers. He was to offer them the bread and wine, begging on bended knees for their forgiveness for his cruel rejection. Once he had done that, he should then admonish those men to refrain from thievery and violence, to fear God and to love their neighbors. Francis commanded Angelo to tell the robbers that if they would cease their wickedness, he would take care of all their needs in the future. While Brother Angelo went in search of the bandits, Francis prayed and begged the Lord to soften the hearts of the bandits and turn them toward repentance.

Upon finding the robbers, Angelo did all that Francis had commanded--he fed them, repented of his cruelty, encouraged them to change their ways and promised that if they did, Francis would care for all their needs. As they ate their food in front of the humbled and hungry friar, the men were convicted of their selfish and violent ways. They returned to Francis with Angelo, ready to start a new life of obedience to God to the astonishment of all the brothers.



So, attribute it to St. Francis and call it a Christian story. Or attribute it to God and call it a Christian story. Or a Jewish story. Or a Muslim story. It really doesn't matter: the point is to read a nice little story of loving your neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be, and then go and do likewise.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 31, 2012 1:55 PM Bookmark and Share


Don't give up hope, sir. There may be a Franciscan connection after all! Here's what Wikipedia says about Jeremy Taylor, the "Shakespeare of Divines" who wrote that story about Abraham:

"[S]uspicion…haunted him through[out] life of a secret leaning to the Roman Catholic position. This suspicion seems to have arisen chiefly from his intimacy with Christopher Davenport, better known as Francis a Sancta Clara, a learned Franciscan friar who became chaplain to Queen Henrietta…."


Comment by: Jon at October 31, 2012 2:40 PM

I'd vote for St. Francis, Dave! I love this post--very much enjoyed reading it.

Comment by: Christa at November 2, 2012 10:26 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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