Engaging the Word: 6/25/17 (The Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 7)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Genesis 21:8-21; Palm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Abraham casts out Hagar and Ishmael, Paul explains how we are united to Christ through our baptism, and Jesus warns the apostles of the challenges of discipleship.

Abraham casting out Hagar and Ishmael by Guercino, 1657. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Abraham casting out Hagar and Ishmael by Guercino, 1657. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Genesis 21:8-21: In this week’s reading, we have a painful family drama that results in the casting out of Hagar and Ishmael from the family home.

Earlier in Genesis, we learned that Hagar was Sarah’s Egyptian slave. Sarah was barren and offered Hagar to Abraham as a way to create heirs to fulfill God’s promise. Back in the day, a man could bear children through a surrogate mother. When Hagar conceives, she “looked with contempt” upon Sarah, and so Sarah “dealt harshly with her and she ran away.” An angel of the Lord finds Hagar and tells her to return to Sarah. In addition, the angel told Hagar that she will have many descendants and to name her son Ishmael. Hagar obeyed. Fast-forward fourteen years. Sarah herself bears Isaac in her old age.

In this week’s reading, as Isaac is weaned, Sarah is concerned that the older Ishmael may threaten Isaac’s position as heir. She insists that Abraham cast them out. Abraham is distressed, but God tells Abraham to do as Sarah says, “for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.” God said he will make a nation of Ishmael also. So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away with some bread and water.

Hagar and Ishmael by Benjamin West, 1776. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hagar and Ishmael by Benjamin West, 1776. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

As Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, the water is gone and they are dying of thirst. Hagar wept in despair, and an angel of the Lord called to Hagar from heaven, told Hagar not to be afraid, and proclaims that her son would become a great nation. A well of water then appeared and it saved their lives. “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.”

Although not recorded in the Bible, according to the Qur’an, Abraham visits Ishmael at Mecca (in modern-day Saudi Arabia), where they build an altar together, called the Ka’aba. Today the Ka’aba serves as the most holy site of the Muslim religion.

Bill Moyers comments in Genesis: A Living Conversation,  “The themes in this story are deep and painful—a woman’s infertility, surrogate motherhood, class differences, and the price human beings pay for God’s will to be done. And something else: This triangle sets off fireworks, and by dawn’s early light Judaism and Islam go their separate ways.”

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17: Attributed to David, the psalmist cries out to God to watch over him and be merciful. He is confident that God is “good and forgiving,” and will answer him.

St. Paul by Folo and Camia, 1826. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by Folo and Camia, 1826. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans 6:1b-11: In chapter 5, Paul stressed the abundance of God’s grace, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Continuing his train of thought in this week’s reading, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” And he answers, “By no means!” through our baptism, we have been crucified with Christ and we have been resurrected with Christ. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 10:24-39: Our reading this week is part two of the three-part sequence known as “The Missionary Discourse,” which emphasizes the mission of the 12 apostles. In last week’s reading, Jesus commissioned the twelve apostles.

This week, Jesus tells the disciples to expect to be targets of persecution just as he is persecuted. Jesus says not to fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear (revere) him (God) who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Their Heavenly Father cares for them and will not abandon them.

Jesus says, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Then he says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus is preparing the disciples for the tension and division that the gospel can have even in families. Christians must place their loyalty to Christ above their families. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

What they (and we) will find is the joy of eternal life.

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