December 20, 2016
1 Samuel 2:1-10
So [Sarah] said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”
Here we are five days before Christmas and our Genesis reading presents us with a family squabble. Does that sound familiar?
This reading is a lot more serious and the implications are far too complex to explain in this short space. Too many people have twisted themselves into knots trying to simplistically summarize the relationship between Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, and poor Abraham stuck in the middle of it all. As our reading tells us, the matter was very distressing to him. For anyone who has studied family systems theory, this is a classic display of a dysfunctional family.
As we noted yesterday, God made a promise to Abraham that seemed preposterous – that he would be the father of a great nation that would outnumber the stars in the heavens. His wife Sarah, being impatient, decided to take matters into her own hands and ask Abraham to father a child with her servant, Hagar. From that union, Ishmael was born.
A few years later, Sarah miraculously gives birth to Isaac, which brings us to the problematic scene depicted in today’s narrative. Sarah is jealous and demands that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away. So the dutiful husband Abraham does as he’s told. But the irony of this story is that God agrees.
In the wilderness, Hagar and Ismael run out of water. So she puts Ishmael under the bushes and prepares for his eventual death. But God heard the cries of the boy and opened Hagar’s eyes to a well of water. Ishmael then goes on to grow up in the wilderness and becomes the father of a great nation.
In Hebrew, the meaning of the name Ishmael is: God listens. Ishmael’s story tells us about God’s care and providence. We may think that God is absent from our lives, especially when things seem hopeless or don’t turn out the way we want. But, whether we realize it or not, God listens. God hears the cry of the abandoned. God hears the cry of the outcast. God hears the cry of the oppressed.
Listening is a quality that is in far too short supply, especially at this time of the year. We are challenged to resist the tendencies to cut ourselves off from those with whom we disagree. And of all the many lessons to be learned in this story of the banishment of Hagar, perhaps listening is one well worth our time and attention. When we do our best to make time for those with whom we disagree, listening can open not only our ears, but our eyes to what is right in front of us.
Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus. To reach out and touch him, and say that we love him. Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen. Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus. Amen
[This Far by Faith, Hymn #98]