Posted by: liturgicalyear | June 23, 2011

Taking matters into our own hands

Today’s Old Testament reading comes from the book of Genesis, from which we began reading on Monday of this week.  To set the stage, we must first consider yesterday’s reading.  In it we see God promising Abram a child, “‘…your own issue shall be your heir.’  He took him outside and said: ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.  Just so,’ he added, ‘shall your descendants be.’  Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness” (Gn 15:4-6).   God then makes a covenant with Abram, “It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River the Euphrates.’” (Gn 15:18)  Thus Abram receives the promise of the Promised Land.

After ten years, however, Abram’s wife Sarai, does not conceive, and Sarai gives up on the promise.  She gives to her husband her maidservant, Hagar, to be his concubine.  As happens in the natural course of events, Hagar becomes pregnant.  I think it’s safe to say that most of us would expect this as a consequence of that union, but for some reason Sarai does not seem to anticipate its occurrence.  Hagar “looks upon her mistress with disdain.” (Gn 16:4)  And what does Sarai do?  She blames Abram, “You are responsible for this outrage against me.” (Gn 16:5)

Huh? 

Abram pretty much excuses himself from the controversy and tells Sarai, “Your maid is in your power. Do to her whatever you please.”  (Gn 16:6)  Sarai proceeds to act so abusively towards Hagar that Hagar runs away.

An angel finds Hagar by a spring in the wilderness and tells her to return to Sarai, “‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her abusive treatment. I will make your descendants so numerous,’  added the LORD’s messenger, ‘that they will be too many to count. Besides,’ the LORD’s  messenger said to her:  ‘You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael, For the LORD has heard you, God has answered you.  This one shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; In opposition to all his kin shall he encamp.’” (Gn 16:9-12)

Thus Ishmael is born, the firstborn of Abram.  “The firstborn?  Well, then what about Isaac?” you ask.

In the next chapter we see God make the promise of Isaac to the union of 99-year old Abram, whom God renames Abraham, and 90-year old Sarai, whom God renames Sarah.

Abraham prostrated himself and
laughed as he said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a
hundred years old? Or can Sarah give birth at ninety?”

Then Abraham said to God, “Let but Ishmael live on by your favor!”

God replied: “Nevertheless, your wife Sarah is to bear you a son, and you
shall call him Isaac. I will maintain my covenant with him as an everlasting
pact, to be his God and the God of his descendants after him. 

 As for Ishmael, I am heeding you: I hereby bless him. I will make him fertile and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation. (Gn 16:17-20)

So it began.  Ishmael and Isaac, both sons of Abraham, but only one receives the birthright of the firstborn.  Isaac, the second born, is the child of the promise. Sarah does not want Isaac to share his inheritance with Ishmael, so she expels Ishmael and Hagar into the desert.  Ishmael and his descendents settle in Arab lands, with Ishmael settling in Mecca.  It is from Ishmael through Mohammed that the Muslim religion takes root.  Herein lies the conflict:  the descendants of Ishmael (Muslims) believe that they are the rightful heirs of the promise, not the descendants of Isaac (Jews).  The descendants of Isaac (Jews) believe that they are the rightful heirs of the promise, not the descendants of Ishmael (Muslims).

Thousands of years ago the conflict was born when Sarah and Abram lost their faith and trust in God’s promise.  The consequences have rocked history.  We see it played out before our eyes every day, “…his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; In opposition to all his kin shall he encamp.”  (Gn 16:12) If they both believe they are inheritors of the promise, how can they ever agree?

Abram and Sarai were given a promise by God.  They hoped, and they waited.  Finally doubt prevailed, and taking matters into their own hands, a mess was left behind.

How difficult it can be to trust and believe in the promises of God amidst our emptiness, sadness, struggle, and pain, especially as days turn into weeks, which turn into months, which turn into years.  But we are called to trust even in the darkest of moments.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “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.” (Mt 7:21)

We know the will of God by listening to the Church, by receiving grace from the sacraments, and by listening to God in prayer.  Then we wait and trust, and we continue to listen and receive the sacraments and pray.

It’s hard to wait.  Fill in the blank…when there’s no work, a bad diagnosis, a child gone astray, an empty womb, a broken marriage or a broken heart.  It is, however, precisely in the waiting that we grow in trust.

Jesus hung in apparent abandonment on the cross, yet it was only through the cross that he experienced the resurrection.  So it is with us.  Let us strive to follow the will of God and not take matters into our own hands because the best place for us to be is in the center of His will.  It is only there that we will ultimately experience Easter joy.

Jesus, I trust in You!  Anne

The Will of God

Author: Unknown

The will of God will never take you,
Where the grace of God cannot keep you.
Where the arms of God cannot support you,
Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs,
Where the power of God cannot endow you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the spirit of God cannot work through you,
Where the wisdom of God cannot teach you,
Where the army of God cannot protect you,
Where the hands of God cannot mold you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the love of God cannot enfold you,
Where the mercies of God cannot sustain you,
Where the peace of God cannot calm your fears,
Where the authority of God cannot overrule for you.

The will of God will never take you,
Where the comfort of God cannot dry your tears,
Where the Word of God cannot feed you,
Where the miracles of God cannot be done for you,
Where the omnipresence of God cannot find you.

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