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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 21:8–21       

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she 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.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. (NRSV)

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, gave her slave-girl Hagar to her husband to bear him children after she had not been able to do so (Genesis 16). Hagar bore Abraham a son, Ishmael. Years later, Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Sarah is concerned that her son will not receive the family’s full inheritance, so she harshly casts out Hagar and Ishmael. We wish God would not have taken Sarah’s side. God confirms with Abraham that his offspring shall come through Isaac and assures Abraham that God will make a nation through Ishmael as well.

Biblical scholar Phyllis Trible wrote that Hagar has become many things to many people. “Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to others.” God responds to the cries of the outcast in the wilderness and sustains their life.

How do we respond to the Hagars of our world? As children of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, we are to comport ourselves so that blessing, and not curse, are to come upon all nations and peoples.

Forgive us, God, when our fear of losing out leads us to hoarding, dominating, casting aspersions, and perpetuating injustice against people we deem a threat. Break through the hearts of the privileged, and lift up the downtrodden. Amen.

Written by Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission

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