This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
The Birth of Ishmael
16Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar,2and 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.3So, after Abram had lived for 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.4He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.5Then 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!’6But 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.
7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.8And 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.’9The angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit to her.’10The angel of the Lord also said to her, ‘I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.’11And 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.
12 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.’
13So she named the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are El-roi’;* for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?’*14Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi;* it lies between Kadesh and Bered.
Sarai follows an ancient custom whereby the children of a slavegirl by her master became the children of her barren mistress. Clealy the custom had potential for causing trouble, either by the master preferring the slavegirl or by the slavegirl despising her mistress or fighting with her over the baby. Doubtless Sarai is trying to fulfil God’s promise that Abraham will have countless descendents.
There is pain in this story, the pain of the barren wife (nobody then considered calling the man barren) and also the pain of the slave who is ill-treated by someone who holds life and death power over her. The bible is good at quietly noting the pain that results from human action and from God’s plans. Suffering’s an important aspect of being human: I acknowledge this when I read the story but reject it if I have migraine.
It’s also a story of God’s compassion for the harshly-treated slave and the revelation that her child too is part of a great plan, although not as favoured a part as Sarai’s child will be. Hagar accepts this promise and describes God as ” God who sees”(her)-not as tranlsated here, the God “whom she sees”-it’s a new discovery about God which reminds the reader that God heard the blood of Cain, saw the righteousness of Noah, and as the story unfolds, will hear the cry of Ishmael. This revelation is continued in the book of Exodus where crucially God sees and hears the afliction of his enslaved people. This passage shows that the author’s depiction of God is based on a profound understanding of his people’s history.
So God sees my migraine? Better than nothing, but until He feels it He won’t know what it’s like.
The Authority of the Son
19 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.20The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished.21Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes.22The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to the Son,23so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.24Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life. 5 ‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.26For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself;27and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man.28Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice29and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
This is a passage of pure theology and I doubt if these are the words of Jesus but my doubt is based on a prejudice that the Jesus depicted in the other three Gospels could not have spoken as he speaks in John’s Gospel. Of course, the doubt could be of the authenticity of the other three gospels, or of my own inability to imagine a Jesus who spoke both ways. I know that, yet the doubt persists. I don’t magine we have the exact words of Jesus in many places in the other gospels but think they may have preserved his style of speaking more than John does. This passage is a little ironic. John has told the reader that no-one has seen God but the Son makes him known. Here Jesus seems to say that we can understand the Son from our prior knowldege of the Father. The Father gives life to the dead, so does the Son; the Father has life in himself, so does the Son. John constatntly emphasises “life” as the purpose of God’s sending the Son into the world. This “life” is the same as “eternal life” and “abundant life” because it is the very life of God. A share in God’s life is what the Son promises those who trust in him. Nor is this gift delayed. Those who trust Jesus already share in God and have passed from death to life. Well, maybe, I want to say. I don’t feel I’ve already done this, although I do trust Jesus. Why does John want me to think I have already arrived? I’ m happy to see my life as a process of being reborn, but there’s still plenty of the old me in the old world. John’s langauge offends my sense of pilgrimage: I’m on the way (I hope) but not at the destination.