From the Rectory 21 June – ‘What troubles you Hagar, Do not be afraid? (Gen 21:17)
This week’s readings are troubling. In a world of tension and fear, of exclusion and inequality we look to the word of God for comfort and guidance, for a model we can emulate. Instead, today we have a story fit for a soap opera, the slave and her son abandoned.
By any standard the story of Hagar and Ishmael is unedifying. Desperate for an heir, and with Sarah his wife apparently unable to have children, Abraham fathers a son (Ishmael) through his wife’s slave, Hagar. When the miracle happens and Sarah gives birth to Isaac, jealousy sets in and Abraham sends Hagar and their son Ishmael away, abandoned with nothing but a skin of water and some bread.
What strikes me about this short story is not that Hagar and Ishmael are abandoned by Abraham, but that they are cared for by God. God stepped in to meet the immediate need for water, and with a promise for the future. We know the promise is fulfilled, because a generation later we find Isaac’s son Esau marrying one of Ishmael’s daughters (Gen28:9).
With a healthy male son, Hagar had become a threat and a rival, reminding Sarah of her own limitations. Sarah moved to get rid of her. A timely reminder, perhaps, that we humans are a mixture. Sometimes the greatest saints are also the greatest sinners. This is not to excuse wrong behaviour, but to recognise that, if we let him, God can and will work with us, despite our shortcomings.
Cast out to fend for herself without the means to do so, Hagar’s story is timeless; used, abused and abandoned. The world is still full of Hagars. God’s care for Hagar is a reminder that God also cares for the outcast, for those on the edge. Our current crisis appears to be making us more aware of how many find themselves outcast, feeling abandoned. Faced with these challenges, be encouraged by God’s care for Hagar and Ishmael; God still cares when the world doesn’t, and calls us to care too.
Rev. Philip Payne
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