Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Click here for readings)
(Click here for readings)
By Benedict Augustine
“But God said to Abraham: ‘Do not be distressed about the boy
or about your slave woman. Heed the demands of Sarah, no matter what she is asking of you; for it is through Isaac that descendants shall bear your name. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a great nation of him also, since he too is your offspring.’”
God had a plan for Abraham. Despite his old age, he would be the father of a great people and have many descendants through his son Isaac. God chose Abraham for this plan because Abraham had faith in God and lived virtuously. His faith allowed him to accept God’s plan.
His wife Sarah could not make the same claim. She laughed at the idea of conceiving a child in her old age. Already, to circumvent her barrenness, she ordered her husband to have a child with her Egyptian servant Hagar. After this, Hagar soon gave birth to Ishmael.
Immediately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Sarah grew to hate Hagar after making this arrangement. In her envy—that she tried to mask as generosity in giving her to her husband—she abused her servant, driving her out of the house and into the wilderness. God had to send an angel to comfort Hagar and persuade her to return home.
All the while, Abraham loved his son Ishmael. He made no assumptions aboutthe success of God’s plan, so he simply continued to do his duty as a husband and a father.
A few years later when an elderly Sarah miraculously gave birth to Isaac, the family was faced with a dilemma. Abraham now had two heirs, and it was obvious that Isaac was the legitimate son meant to carry out God’s plan. As the son of a slave, and begotten out of human selfishness rather than divine love, Ishmael did not fit into this plan. Assuming the two grew up together, their interests would clash as each would struggle to fill the role as the new patriarch. One would try to dominate the other, and seeing that Ishmael was older, he would likely displace his brother and take his inheritance.
For the sake of stability, the two brothers would have to part ways, somewhat like Lot and Abraham so many years earlier. This brings anguish to Hagar and Abraham, who both see this decision as a death sentence for Ishmael. Contrary to their expectations, God accommodates Ishmael and allows him to continue his family line and have numerous descendants. True, he becomes a “wild ass of a man” (Gn 16:12), and his progeny will not technically be God’s people until Jesus commands His disciples to preach to the gentiles, but no one can say that God punishes Ishmael for his parents’ (and step-parents’) mistakes. He made a separate plan for each child.
God’s decision to separate the two brothers proved to be the wisest decision. If Abraham had his way and allowed his emotions to triumph, he would have allowed his two sons to grow up together. Not only would this have endangered Isaac, this would have set a horrible precedent for the family structure and cause instability coupled with rampant inequality. It would indicate God sees little value in marriage between equal partners and condones concubinage. Men could then use women and their children as property, and assume the role of master (instead of father) while their concubines and children assume the role of slaves. In other words, God’s people would be indistinguishable from all the other people around as toss away destiny, identity, and cohesion.
Knowing infinitely better, God overruled Abraham’s plea. He wanted to preserve the family structure. He wanted a model in place to teach humanity how to serve and love another in an equal capacity. The father has a role; the mother has a role; and the children have a role. Each role entails a certain sacrifice—an indication of love rather than use. Only this arrangement could preserve God’s people and give their lives fulfillment and meaning.
Jesus’ coming only validates the family with its prescribed roles. He served God as a Son, and allowed His disciples to enter the family as adopted children through the sacrament of baptism. Just like before, this family structure, otherwise known as the Church, has preserved God’s people and given them peace and fulfillment. Naturally, people outside this family carried on as before like Ishmael to make cultures of their own. As they continually rose and fell, Christ’s spiritual descendants remained intact and steadily grew.
Today, people outside the Church seem to have their way in creating an opposing culture that is pro-individual and anti-family. Nevertheless, Christ’s disciples must hold fast and believe in God’s plan. Emotions like the ones of Abraham—for emotions guide this debate, not logic—have duped Western societies into believing that redefining the marriage and eliminating the notions of legitimacy will bring peace and strength. It will not. It will pit Ishmael against Isaac, leaving all of society weakened and divided.
As always, only those who follow God’s plan, revealed so clearly in Nature as well Scripture, will flourish and find peace. Those who do not will dissipate, age, and eventually pass away. God wanted to bring these descendants of Ishmael out of the wilderness and reunite them with His family; instead, they tried to bring the family out into the wilderness and dissolve it. It will be painful and ultimately futile.
More than ever, our time calls for faith in God. His will be done.