This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
The Birth of Isaac
21The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised.2Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.3Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.4And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.6Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’7And she said, ‘Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’
Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away
8 The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.*10So 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.’11The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.12But 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 after you.13As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’14So 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.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.16Then 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.17And 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.18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’19Then 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.
20 God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
When finally the narrative reaches its crazy climax in the birth of Isaac, the child whose very name means laughter, the narrator typically doesn’t spend too much time on the rejoicing but turns to the painful story of Hagar and Ishmael. The reader will remember that God has assured Hagar that He sees her and will not overlook her. God’s purpose is with the future of Abraham’s descendants through Isaac but his care is not exclusive. Ishmael also will be the father of a great nation. God’s love for Abraham is not based on carelessness towards other tribes. “God has heard the voice of the boy”-God is always attentive to the voice of the one who has been rejected. When, against all probability our prayers have been answered, then and especially then, we should know that God is looking past us to those whose prayers have not been answered, the unhappy, the unhealed, the rejected. Any triumphalism from those who believe they have experienced God’s favour (like Sarah) is not pleasing to God.
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’42They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’43Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves.44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.45It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’53So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.
John has told us that The Word became flesh and lived among us. This is often mistranslated today as “The Word became a human being” but the Greek “sarx” doesn’t mean human being; it means, rather the stuff of which all living things are made, animals as well as humans. Jesus, God’s Word, God’s sharing of his life with his creatures, is a mammal, like every human being. His humanity is just as much a product of the evolutionary process as mine is. “Flesh” is the condition of being alive in this world, the life to which we all cling. Except Jesus didn’t cling to it. Out of love for others, he “gave” his flesh, on the cross, so that they should share, in their flesh, the life he shared with God. The flesh and blood of Jesus, the painful mortal reality of his sacrifice, is the guarrantee that what he shared with God was not the property of either a superman or a spirit, but of a real human being, and could therefore be shared by other human beings. Of course it’s likely that there’s some reference in this passage to the Christian Eucharist, but we should not interpret this passage by the Church’s sacrament; rather we should interpret that sacrament in the light of this passage. To eat the “flesh” of the Son Of Man is not so much to share in a sacrament, as to share the sacrificial generosity of the Son of Man as gift and mission. Then indeed we can trust that Jesus will raise us up on the last day.