Gen. 16: 1 – 16 – The Birth of Ishmael – Held on Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gen. 16: 1 – 16 – The Birth of Ishmael

We began with introductions, a few new members, and a few older ones who were not present.  There were so many coincidences; we begin on the September 16th with the 16th Chapter of Genesis.  The story is that of the birth of Ishmael whom, for many Muslims, their progenitor and link with Abraham.  And finally, there was this past week, the trailer of a movie that by all accounts was not well done and in the process demeans the Muslim religious traditions and at the same time resulted in violence across the Muslim world, our Ambassador was killed, a number of Muslims died.  What a way to begin the year. 


In response to the violence, I reminded us first that we are not our own but called to be of the mind of Christ in our response.  As part of our background, I read two passages from the Vatican II documents which reveal the turn that our Catholic tradition made at that historical moment.

The first was from the Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chap. 2, §16 and the second from Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, §3  Both of these passages are expressed in positive terms with the hope that respectful dialogue can begin and continue to foster improved relationship between the faiths of the world.  It is clear that both that God intended there to exist a multi-religious world in which we are to live and, at the same time, God did not let us know precisely what these relationships are to be.  It’s up to us with God’s grace.

I would encourage the reading of the notes  One item worth noting is that in verse 3 the translation on the Bishops’ website is

Thus, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, his wife Sarai took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. [Emphasis Added.]

The word to note is wife, whereas in other Catholic translations, the word is concubine.  I point this out just to show how one word makes a difference. 

Our Basic Questions + 

It comes as no surprise to those who have been following our efforts to “Rise to the Level of our Time,” that we approach the scripture from the lens of a questioning mind and a prayerful heart. The specific questions have become more precise over time.  Our first question, who are the characters in the passage; to which we have added, and what role does each of the characters play?  To get at the “role” question, we need to pay attention to what the characters say and do and also what we would expect them to say and do but they don’t.  The second question in some sense is the most complicated and that is the “when” question.  What is the “when” of the passage?  What is the “when” of the author?  And, most critically, what is our “when,” the “when” of our life at this time?  A third question, what is the theme, purpose, plot of the passage?

I have come to recognize another basic question that continues to emerge in me.  Since the bible is a historical document, the cultural values of the times are inevitably imbedded in the book.  Since we also believe that the same bible is the word of God, then there are some values that are transcendent, meant for all people and all times.  So we find ourselves in any given passage, affirming some values and rejecting others.  This raises the fundamental question for me, what are the values that we affirm and what are rejecting and what is the rationale for such discernment?

My Refrain 

Before we read though, let’s quiet ourselves, remember whatever we can from the background, our questions and, most importantly, pay attention to what happens inside of us as we read.

The Reading: Gen. 16: 1 – 16 – 


Before going to the individual characters, I asked if anyone had a comment, question, etc. to make.  This began a lively exchange that lasted for the rest of our session.

Essentially our discussion broke down into two areas both of which are certainly worthwhile.  The first area was raised by Dawn when she wondered how to move from the passage in its cultural and historical setting to our times, what does it mean for a modern woman living in the 21st century.  The other was raised by Heber who reflected on the news covering the Muslim reaction, often quite violent, to the showing of a trailer to a movie that demeans their faith.

I observed that it would be impossible to cover both of these areas in one session.  We agreed to deal with the issues surrounding Heber’s observation next week; should prove very interesting.  And we turned our attention to the concern raised by Dawn.  From hindsight I can say that we didn’t have time even to do justice to her concern.

As I mentioned earlier in this blog, the fundamental question, as I understood it, is that the bible as a historical document reveals inevitably the cultural of its time and as a the Word of God reveals what, in some way, transcends any given culture.  The challenge is to distinguish between the two and on what basis to make that distinction.

A startling example of this challenged emerged when Tim asked well what does God have to say; which was a natural lead into the words on the page.  In the passage, God pursues Hagar.  God is not presented as talking with Abram nor with Sarai but to Hagar.  And what does God say, Return and Submit.  Whoa – that seems to  go against our modern set of values, doesn’t it.  Michael began to talk about the probable human results of such actions.  Instinctively I went to the wall and took the cross off and brought it back to the table.  It is startling how the story of Jesus confounds us.  What are we to do with a leader who wields power in such a manner?  He doesn’t defeat the Romans; he doesn’t reject those who rejected him.  And the cross is only half of the picture.  In response to Jesus’ submission, the Father raises Jesus to a new life, an eternal life, a story for us humans to struggle with for as long as we live, individually, communally, and historically.  No escape.

Your responses, questions, and / or comments are welcomed. You can add them by clicking on the comment link at the end of this post.

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