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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eid Mubarak

This is the equivalent of wishing people Merry Christmas on December 25, and this year Eid al-Fitr fell exactly 6 months later on June 25, otherwise known as my birthday.  Muslims around the world ended their month-long daylight-hours fasting/night-time hours feasting and prayer on Sunday/Monday with festivities highlighting community.  That day, my Bible reading happened to fall in Genesis chapter 21, which provoked some pondering.

Earlier in Genesis, Abraham is promised a son, and not just a son but a large family of innumerable descendants, and not just good numbers but a vision of God blessing and transforming all of creation through this family. But he's old, and his wife Sarah is also old, and years pass, and Sarah gets the idea that maybe God meant for Abraham's son to be born to an Egyptian slave-girl named Hagar.  So Abraham agrees to get Hagar pregnant (Hagar had no choice) and she has a son named Ishmael.  Thirteen more years go by and strangers appear at Abraham's tent again, and announce that within the year Sarah will have a son.  Sarah laughs at the idea, but within the year she gives birth to Isaac, whose name means laughter.  When he's ?3 ish, Abraham throws a weaning party for him, and his older brother Ishmael (now presumably 17 or 18?) laughs at his little brother's antics, causing Sarah to complain that he and his mother Hagar should be banished.  In an act of weakness and cruelty even more shameful than getting her pregnant in the first place, Abraham gets up the next morning and sends Hagar and Ishmael into the desert.  Before this happens, though, God speaks.  "I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring."

Muslims trace their lineage back to Ishmael.  Ishmael, like Jacob the son of Isaac, had 12 sons of his own, and populated the area.  It's certainly possible that the tribes of Arabia in the 6th century descended from this line.  And it's certainly in the Bible that God intended Ishmael's family to be populous and to bless the earth, even though the final fulfillment of that role passed through Isaac's line to Jesus.

Yet so much of our reaction in the 21rst century reflects Sarah's fear.  Chase them away.  Deport them.  No matter that this is a child, a woman, that there are dangers in the desert, that they have nothing but a bottle of water and one loaf of bread.  Don't let that one share in my son's glory.  Don't let my children's inheritance be shared with them.  How different would our story today be if all along the family of Abraham embraced each other, accepted and celebrated their common father, expected to find something of God's blessing in each line?  We are always thinking zero-sum, whatever you have takes away from me.  But God doesn't operate that way, grace flows outside and around the equations we expect.  

Ishmael's offspring and Isaac's offspring and all the rest of us who entered the family by adoption have the potential for reconciliation and redemption.  Terrorist attacks and phobic responses both threaten to derail that trajectory, but we can choose something better, because Jesus' vision was bigger, all-encompassing, transformative.

Oh, and I had a great birthday by the way.  Wonderful greetings, a special 24-hour Nairobi get-away with my husband, apple pie and a hike with friends, connections with all our kids and moms.

(June 25th sunset from the escarpment as we traveled back home to Naivasha)

1 comment:

Jill said...

Happy Birthday!! And thank you for sharing your thoughts about such a confusing topic. I have often read that story and pondered as you and yet I am buffeted by so many disparate views sometimes it's' easier to simply ignore rather than embrace God's messy glorious story. In the end, we will see as He sees. That is all we know for sure. Until then I will choose love and reconciliation and hope.
And Happy Birthday, ONE MORE TIME!