Grace to you!
A woman brought to my attention her challenges in reading and grasping the message of Genesis 21:5-20 where Abraham, due to divine intervention, heeded the request of Sarah, his wife, to let go of Hagar and her son and his son, Ishmael. Certainly, to read this story, literally and outside the mind of the Church, would lead to misunderstanding. Though I’m not a biblical scholar and my approach and goal in our reflections is to lead us to deeper Catholic Christian Spiritual life, here, I will remind us of the connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament, a connection crucial to the Church’s interpretation of Scripture.
Salvation history could be compared to a book of two chapters. The first is the promise. The content of that promise is what one needs to know about the foundational truths establishing the grounds for the next chapter.
The second is the fulfillment. Here, what has been established in the first chapter is fulfilled so much so one cannot grasp the complete message of the first chapter unless one delved into the fulfillment chapter. The second chapter is like the key that unlocks the door and welcomes one into the home of salvation, which the entire history is all about. Both chapters are inseparable from each other and, for us Christians, must be read in connection with one another. Those two chapters are the Old Testament and the New Testament.
God spoke from the beginning, directing things towards a goal, “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4-7). His relationship with the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) in the biblical history was in view of His fulfillment for the last, the second through whom and in whom humanity will be saved.
So we see a lot of biblical typologies (prophetic symbols in the Old Testament that represent a person or a thing in the New Testament) indicating the promise and the fulfillment. Adam being the first man, a living being, and Jesus, the last Adam, “a life-giving spirit” (I Cor 15:45) and the fulfillment. Thus the Old Testament and the New Testament are broad classifications in a scripted version of those events and persons, one pointing to fulfillment in the other, and the fulfillment shinning the light in the understanding and appreciation of the promise.
Romans 5:12-21 brings out the comparison and typology of the first Adam and the Last Adam and the first Eve and the Second Eve in the most vivid way. So also, the Letter to the Galatians chapter 4 where Paul unravels the Good News of the meaning of what happened with the Isaac and Ishmael event. The first is the child born to Abraham by the flesh; he was Abraham’s exclusive choice. The second, Isaac, was the child born to Abraham by promise, by grace. This was the child of the New Covenant. This is how the Apostle Paul unwraps the mystery. It is in this light the inspired author, Saint Paul, wants us to read and interpret the story of Isaac and Ishmael in Genesis 21.
Thus, reading that story without the Christ-based lens will be very difficult to assimilate. But reading it in the mind of Christ, therefore in the mind of the Church following the tradition of St. Paul, for example, we see that God designed that the children of the promise will be true heirs of the kingdom.
God's promise didn't exclude Ishmael. Instead, God's promise to Abraham about a unique son was fulfilled through that channel designed by God. It didn’t exclude anyone else unless one choses to exclude oneself. Rather, all are invited to the heavenly feast of the Lamb.
A practical, imperfect analogy will be when we have so many good things going for us, and the Lord inspires us to focus on the one thing through which all others will be a true blessing to many. This is singularity of purpose, without which fulfillment of the ultimate plan will be difficult.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the one through whom all are drawn to the eternity of blessedness in God. He is the fulfillment. He is the door, as well as salvation itself.
Praying that in our life all the promises of God, whose yes are in Christ, will come to pass too. Amen
God love you. God bless you
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Wednesday ordinary Time A Week 13: Gn 21:5, 8-20; Mt 8:28-34]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.