27 June, 2013. Thursday of Week Twelve
Gen 16:1ff. Childless Sarah offers Abraham her maidservant, who conceives a son, Ishmael.
Mt 7:21ff. Rely on faith rather than on words and display, to build on rock, not sand.
First Reading: Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”
Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
Gospel: Matthew 7:21-29
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell – and great was its fall!”
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Building for the Long-term
Abram and Sarah followed the custom of their time, when children were the surest way to secure ones human rights and dignity into old age. After many years of childless marriage, Sarah turns in desperation to the local custom that allowed a surrogate wife to bear her child. Yet once the Egyptian maidservant Hagar conceives, she scorns her mistress for being childless; and Sarah now blamed this humiliation on Abram. Following the custom that it was the wife’s place to look after the female servants, Abram tries to solve the problem by opting out, “Your maid is in your power. Do to her whatever you please.” We may disapprove of both Abram and Sarah in this case; but God is more compassionate and cares for Hagar and her child Ishmael. This child too was to receive a promise of protection and a future, a future that was to bring much sorrow and trouble to Abram’s other offspring. Even today, the Arabs descended from Ishmael, and the Jews descended from Isaac are deeply suspicious and antagonistic towards one another.
Problems that burden people often begin when they act in hasty disregard for the feelings of others. Like Abram we can opt out of a difficult situation. Or like Sarah and Hagar we can spoil the chances of a peaceful life by envy and spite. Yet, even amid painful consequences of our faults we are asked to recognize the purifying hand of God. These things are written for our instruction and moral edification.
God can help us correct our faults, changing our perspective so that our former enemy is seen as actually a neighbour, a member of our extended human family, just as Ishmael, the father of the Arabs, and Isaac, the father of the Jews, were brothers. The eucharist which unites us around the same table reminds us of our larger family ties, sharing the same food and the same sacred traditions, the same Lord Jesus in whom there is “neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The house of peace is built on the rock of Christ where we are all one family, one blood. We must do much more than simply say “my brother, my sister” or “Lord, Lord!” It is not enough to make one single lavish display of goodwill and then think we can forget all about our neighbour. A house of mere words will not last; it is built on sand and will be easily washed away at the next storm. Jesus calls us to do the will of our heavenly Father, his Father and ours. We enter the kingdom of God, the secure house of faithful love, by doing the will of God continuously and faithfully.