Call Me Abdullah!
When I was living and working in Greater Chicago (1973-87), I had a somewhat older thrice-weekly tennis partner named Dr. Sargon Odishoo who alas recently passed away in his 90s. He was the family optometrist. More importantly, he was the father of my older daughter’s best friend, Arbella, and a walking-distance neighbor. Doc Odishoo, as his first name suggested, was Assyrian. He was proudly named after Sargon II, the famous and feared ruler of ancient Assyria. Until meeting him, I thought the Assyrians had disappeared from history not long after the Old Testament era. Apparently, they had had their own diaspora. So, Doc and Wilma Odishoo had immigrated to the U.S. from Iran, where they had been minority Eastern Rite Christians. Not only that, but Sargon claimed that their Assyrian language, which he and his wife still spoke, was a close relative of Jesus’ at-home language of Aramaic. Hence, his family name, not unlike the related Arabic Abd-Isa, meant the slave (or servant) of Jesus...
Well, in studying the Bible and the history of Christianity in a demanding four-year adult-ed program of the Episcopal Church called Education for Ministry, or EfM, it came to me that as my Creator, the Almighty has property rights to me and my life. After all, if an artist paints a picture, she or he owns that work unless and until it’s sold. So, in that sense, I am really an Abdullah, an abd-ullah, slave or at best indentured servant of the Most High. If this sounds bad, think of the angels, who apparently serve willingly for all eternity in this capacity and are fully aware of their dependent status. So, as A-I-Ts, or angels-in-training, we need to realize Whose we are as well as who we are and act accordingly.
In Matthew 19:14 Jesus reprimands his disciples who are shooing little kids away from him, in these words: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (NIV). A related passage appears in Mark 10:15: “Truly I tell you, anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Berean Study Bible). Elsewhere, Jesus suggests that the poor will gain access to the heavenly kingdom more readily than the rich. So, even though in his world Roman legions could add new territory to the Empire by force, Jesus is clear that the powerless, weak, and lowly, not the rich and powerful, are the future residents of his kingdom—one, as he tells Pilate, that is definitely not of this world. Our freedom is limited in any case. We can jump only so high, live only so long, do only so many things, have only so many intimate relationships. Paradoxically, true freedom comes from realizing these limitations and using our time and talents in the service of the planet, our fellow creatures, and ultimately the Great Life Force. Given all that, just call me Abdullah!
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