Blog di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA – Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa MISSIONARY ONGOING FORMATION – A missionary look on the life of the world and the church
‘One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, » Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?’” (The Gospel of Saint Luke, 17:15-17)
Looking at the story of Dinah there is no other possible reaction but silence: ‘Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her.’ (34:1)
In re-living the sad events of this chapter of Genesis there is a strong temptation to skip the entire chapter and look for other stories instead. But this time we won’t do that, and we will go through these pages of the human realm that are as distressing as frequent and common in history, but they can hide messages of life between their lines. Much of the effort of those who want to penetrate into some truth of the human condition from any perspective lies in trying to hold together Adam and Cain, Lamech and Noah, Sarah and Hagar, the embrace between Esau and Jacob as well as Dinah, her captors and her avenging brothers. While reading the Bible there is a fatal, recurring temptation to concentrate only on the bright pages and discard the dark ones; but when you fall into this error you end up offering ideological readings, where a part becomes the whole, thus losing sight of the mixed but truer human reality. Authentic biblical humanism is not a collection of “best practices”, but a look of love and salvation at humanity as a whole. It is a humanism that does not tell us of the primacy of Adam over Cain and the victory of blessing over evil, hiding the dark side of our human condition. Instead, looking deep into our soul and our body it tells us that the evil appearing in its devastating power is neither the first nor the last word for us.
Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, leaves the camp and her mother’s tents one day ‘to visit the women of the land’. Dinah was very young according to the tradition, maybe still a maiden (Genesis 30:21 and 31:41, the Book of Jubilees [30:2] mentions 12 years), and so she was looking for companions. Even today in many places of war and conflict, children go over the visible and invisible barricades and boundaries put up by adults; they go beyond them, as they are incautious and curious about life. They go in search of mates, games to play and adventures. But yesterday just as now, the purity of children and young girls can be, and often is met by the wickedness and crimes of adults, and often meets. Especially the girls, the young ones, who like their friend Dinah continue to be vulnerable and exposed to danger in their games and in their curious leaves from home. We have been striving for thousands of years, but we still haven’t managed to make the games and the outings of our girls from the tents similar to those of their male siblings: the presence of a single Shechem in town, or the possibility that there is one is enough for a girl not to be able to go out when she wants to “seek companions”, and for her freedom and opportunities to be less than those of her brothers. The civilization of a people is measured by its ability to create the conditions for the cultural and institutional “walks of Dinah” to be increasingly possible and safe.
After the kidnapping and rape, the community of the Hivites (Canaanites) asks Jacob and his sons to let Shechem the rapist marry Dinah (in a “shotgun wedding”), by offering a generous dowry: ‘Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like.’ (34:12). But when the negotiations already seemed to go through, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers ‘took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.’ (34:25). In ancient literature we often find the image of war triggered by the rape of a woman (Helen, the Sabine women…). But this war, this violence here take the place of peaceful and good alliances with the Canaanite people we have met several times in the cycles of Abraham and Isaac. Jacob, himself a man of the Alliance, of the alliances and pacts – that remain mysteriously and ambiguously in the background of the story of Dinah – cannot approve of that murderous outcome (he says to his sons: ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites’ (34:30), which suddenly pushed the people of the promise back to the violent times before Noah’s ark.
With the return of Dinah in his family, Genesis picks up the story of Jacob, his epiphanies and his journey. Elohim, in fact, spoke to him again: ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’ (35:1) At Bethel, fleeing to Laban he had received a personal vocation in a dream (28:13), he had seen the stairway to heaven, and it was there that his real story began. When Jacob-Israel returns to Bethel he is certainly richer than when he had passed there for the first time: now he has numerous descendants, many goods, reconciliation with Esau, but above all he has a new name and the great blessing of the Jabbok. Here then is his gratitude for the blessings received throughout more than twenty years following the first one: ‘let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone’ (35:3). Gratitude, all true gratitude is an expression of gratuitousness (the Greek root charis, is the same). The most valuable is the gratitude that “looks back”, not the one that “looks ahead”. For many human feelings and passions it is not good to look back (see how Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt because of this: 19:26). Gratitude is an exception to this rule, because it is more genuine and effective when it is evoked by looking back, without considering the future. You can thank a customer or a supplier with gifts and “altars”, because good entrepreneurs that we are look ahead and know that thanking is a very good investment for the future of business relationships. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact it is very well so. But the thanks of those who pronounce it as if the world were to end with that thanks is very different, higher and purer. The gratitude that looks back is all-gratuitous thanks, and this is worth a lot, because its only reason is intrinsic to that relationship. It is the same gratitude, for example, lived by those who practice the art of “closing circles of relationships”, and after a meeting or an event (which will not be repeated) write to people just to say thank you to them. For this same reason, the greatest gratitude is the one that we express to the poor and to the little ones, not the one towards the powerful (who are never thanked too much). It is above all this gratitude that we exercise, if we think about it, when we participate at the funeral of a friend, or the golden wedding anniversary of our parents. This is the gratitude we express to our colleagues in retirement parties (this dimension would be enough to take better care of them in our businesses), but also to the artists and philosophers of the past, or in respect of the saints (holiness can also be read as a large collective gratitude that, by looking back at the life of a person, helps everyone look forward and look up). It is this gratitude that we say – and we say it to one another – to our spouse on their deathbed, when all the pain and the beauty of the universe get concentrated in a single moment. These “gratitudes that look back” are not the only important thank you’s of our lives, but when they are missing, all other thank you’s lose of their depth and value.
But this pilgrimage also reminds us that during the journey of authentic vocations, whether they be individual or collective, the “pilgrimage of Jacob” should be occasionally repeated, and we have to set out on a journey towards the site of our first vocation. These pilgrimages are always useful, but they are simply indispensable for the people and the communities that are born from listening to a “voice” and having believed in a “promise”, including that special type of communities called businesses. Repeating the “pilgrimage” of Jacob is invaluable in times of crisis, when you have just lived through a conflict or a “war”. Setting out towards an “altar” becomes a great and effective way to start over and find the ethical and spiritual foundations of a relationship, of a community, of ourselves. Setting out together, in order to find reasons for giving thanks and thanking each other sooner or later on our way. After her sad story is told, Dinah disappears from the Bible. But Dinah is still alive in many women and girls (and children) kidnapped and raped, yesterday, today, tomorrow, in Italy, in India, anywhere. And if the Bible chose to present us the only daughter of the three patriarchs as a young girl who is kidnapped and abused, then even this absurd pain is looked upon by God, who continues to suffer every time the sisters of Dinah shed the same tears as she did, to be collected and to remain forever in his ‘wineskin’ (Psalm 51). ‘And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), … he and all the people who were with him and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel.’ (35:6)
by Luigino Bruni
published in Avvenire on 01/06/2014