After some ‘universal’ myths (Adam & Eve, Noah, the tower of Babel—all of which make most sense, I would suggest, as meaning-making of the chronologically much later fall of the neo-Babylonian empire, return to and rebuilding of Jerusalem) Genesis (origins) re-boots with the story of Abraham.
Abraham originates on the Persian Gulf, and migrates up the Tigris-Euphrates as far as the mountains between modern-day Iraq and Turkey, before turning south towards a corridor of land between the Mediterranean and the northern-most limit of a deep rift valley that runs all the way down through Africa. He migrates with his nephew, Lot, making it clear that he comes in peace. As he travels down the spine that separates farmed hills falling towards the sea and more marginal land falling into the rift, a spine all along which there are settlements, he camps on the marginal side, to say, I am not a threat. Nonetheless, the marginal land cannot sustain both his own flocks and those of his nephew, so they part company, Lot descending into the rift valley floor, a wide and relatively fertile space.
Around the rift valley and in the hill country to its east, there were various settlements, each with its own king, or tribal chief, each forming alliances with their neighbours. It transpires that one king is most powerful, having eight vassal kings. Five of these rebel, including the king of Sodom, under whose patronage Lot is now living. The rebels are crushed, and Lot, his family and flocks carried off among the loot.
News of this reaches Abraham, and he, in turn, raises his own men and sets off to rescue his nephew. Abraham returns, successful, and is met by Melchizedek, king of Salem (later, Jerusalem). Melchizedek was never a vassal king, and, like Abraham himself, had played no part in the rebellion. However, Melchizedek, who is also a priest of the Most High God, brings out bread and wine to welcome Abraham home. Melchizedek proclaims:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most high,
maker of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
Melchizedek enables Abraham to make sense of his experience, and celebrate God’s faithfulness towards him—even though there remain many unanswered questions in his life. ‘Melchizedek, king of Salem’ means ‘King of righteousness, King of Peace,’ and he enables Abraham to enter into peace with his neighbour, which is not merely the end of war, but a transformation as profound as that of grain into bread and grapes into wine.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews claims that Jesus is a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, and not the later line of Aaron, whose priestly role was entirely different—and no longer necessary. But if Jesus is a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, then the Church is a priesthood of this order too.
This, then, is key to the role of all Christians, toward their neighbours, and of those called to a public ministry within the community:
to help people respond to God in thankfulness for God’s faithfulness towards them;
to hold questions without answers;
to nurture the conditions that make for peace, for wholeness and a culmination of every small part.
That’s a good story to be part of.