The pain of abandonment lls this part of the great saga of Abraham. The story thus far has been laden with dif cult choices: the decision to leave Ur and all its familiarity and then to leave Sodom and Gomorrah to God’s judgment after striving to nd clemency; leaving Lot’s wife because of her fated disobe- dience. And now after all that faithfulness, we have a story of ruthlessness.
We recognize the themes of invitation and hospitality throughout this story: Sarai’s invitation for Abram to lie with Hagar, the Egyptian slave; the kindness shown by Abram to the strangers who visit; promises and covenants, including the cir- cumcision of Ishmael, the slave woman’s son, along with all the males of the household; and God’s promises, not only to Abram but also to both Sarai (Sarah) and Hagar about their sons, now ourishing and growing in strength.
But a dark thread runs through this narrative. In Genesis 16 we read how Hagar, having conceived, has mocked the bar- renness of her mistress. Sarai responds by treating her badly so Hagar runs away into the wilderness where God encounters her as she rests by a spring of water. And now, some years later, we nd Sarah’s jealousy and Abraham’s response resulting in Hagar being driven into the wilderness to the point of death. Experi- ences of being “in” and “out” weave through the story.
Through all of this drama of inclusion and exclusion, jeal- ousy and suspicion, brinkmanship and desperation, human kindness and yet disturbing injustice, one thing remains con- stant: God, who hears “the voice of the boy where he is,” keeps God’s promises, providing sustenance to the outcast in need and treasuring the life of Ishmael. “God was with the boy.”
God who hears the voice of the abandoned and the homeless, help us to keep our own promises to protect and nurture those who bear the brunt of an unjust world. Amen.
Implicit in the story of Hagar and Ishmael is the threat to Isaac and to God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah. The psalmist captures the terror by unnamed forms of destruction that may threaten an individual or people. Paul raises the specter of that most universal threat—death—but does so within the context of the new life won by Christ’s resurrection. Matthew describes various ways in which the enemies of Jesus threaten his disciples because of their association with him.
• Read Genesis 21:8-21. When have you felt burdened and outcast? What was your experience of God’s hearing you where you were?
• Read Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17. Do you pray in the confidence that God hears and will answer your pleas? If not, how could you learn to pray in that manner?
• Read Romans 6:1b-11. Paul speaks of dying to self and rising with Christ. How has your Christian faith given you a sense of freedom from sin?
• Read Matthew 10:24-39. What makes God’s presence real to you? How does God’s intimate knowledge of you—the number of hairs on your head—make you feel?
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