In today’s scriptures we have a tragic story, an absolutely key synthesis of our entire faith, and some very hard sayings.
We begin with the story of Hagar being cast out into the wilderness, driven out by Sarah’s jealousy and Abraham’s cowardice, left to die with her son in the desert.
Then we have Paul in Romans giving the most succinct summation of death and resurrection as embodied by baptism in the entirety of the New Testament.
And finally, we have Jesus telling us he might potentially deny us before the Father in the heaven, that he came not to bring peace but a sword, and that family conflict is 100% a part of following him.
How are we going to put all that together?
We must begin where we always begin—by putting ourselves into the story.
We can start by identifying where we want to turn away with disgust from what’s happening, and that’s with Sarah and Abraham.
It’s a godawful mess.
Sarah could not bear a child, so she told Abraham to “go in” to Hagar, which is Bible-speak for having sex, and Hagar got pregnant.
Hagar had no choice in this scenario, she was exploited twice over, first by being used as a sexual object by her master, and then as a brood mare to produce an heir.
Sarah quickly regretted her decision, but not out of human decency. She was jealous and bitter both of Abraham having sex with Hagar, and also of Hagar’s ability to conceive.
Sarah took it out on Hagar multiple times, until now she goes to the extreme and essentially condemns Hagar and baby Ishmael to death.
She tells Abraham to send them out into the desert, and to his eternal shame, he does.
It’s an ugly, ugly situation, and incidentally, that is one of the remarkable aspects of the Hebrew scriptures. The writers in no way shy away from telling the truth about what happened, no matter how repulsive it is.
These ancient writers are not afraid to attribute reprehensible moral conduct to the ultimate patriarch and matriarch of the nation, Abraham and Sarah.
This reflects a tradition that is able to be self-critical, that is able to see God at work even in human weakness and sin. That is one of the great gifts of Judaism to us, one of their daughter faiths, and to human religion at large.
A great clue as to what lies unredeemed in our own hearts is what causes a strong negative emotional reaction in us.
If you want to see where you’re in denial and where you need spiritual growth, simply pay attention to where you get defensive.
It’s a surefire way to see your shadow.
I think most of us would react against Sarah and Abraham’s actions in this story, and justly so.
But as soon as we say, “I would never do that!” we have to think again. Continue reading