28 June 2007 Thursday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 16, 1-12, 15-16 War Crimes
During the time of Abraham and his wife Sarai, it was legitimate that the barren wife would suggest to her husband to sire a child from another woman. The issue of barrenness is pertinent to the woman. To child-bearing is the responsibility of women. In the olden days, when a woman was childless, it was seen as a curse. Thus, the stories of barren women in the Bible, such as Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah & mother of John the Baptist, held childlessness as a divine reproach. Thus, the arrangement for Abraham to have a union with Sarai’s slave girl, Hagar, was a legitimate solution. Hagar bore a son called Ishmael.
We ask however, why Abraham and Sarai would resort to such a solution, when we just heard yesterday, in the first reading, that God promised Abraham a child from him and Sarai. God promised Abraham an heir to whom Abraham could leave all that he owned. And that from his son a great nation would rise. The answer is in the time element. From the time God promised Abraham to Sarai’s proposition, ten to eleven years had passed, and there was no fulfillment of that promise.
But God would still say no. Ishmael, Hagar’s son, would not receive the promises of Yahweh. It took 13-14 years more, when Abraham was 100 and Sarai was 90, that Sarai would conceive and bore Isaac, the child of the promise.
There is something that we could learn from Abraham and Sarai’s story. God fulfills his promises, even if it takes years to fulfill it. When my father passed away in 1990, I thought that the best way to fend for my family was to leave the Jesuits. But God promised to take care of them in my prayer. On April 2007, God fulfilled His promise to me: I got ordained and my youngest brother graduated in UP two weeks after my ordination. Between those years, I became anxious. There were times I doubted if God would really keep His promise. In this time of quick and instant gratification, we want things done fast.
However there are problems that require time such as childlessness, the fulfillment of a dream, or reconciliation between two conflicting parties, friends or family. Wounds caused by relationships need time to heal. Forgiveness is hard to come by, but eventually, becomes possible after some time. One of my favorite TV series is called, The West Wing. When 9/11 happened, they came up with an episode called, “Isaac and Ishmael” tackling terrorists attacks and religious wars. A few weeks ago, I was reading a book called, “Three Cups of Tea” about an American climber, Greg Mortenson, who experienced the hospitality of a poor village in Pakistan, and then promised to build schools in the area. During the time of 9/11, he was in Pakistan fighting another war through education. Today, I am reading a book, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, about Afghanistan and its struggle over the forces of violence in his country. In these TV series and books, I often wondered when all these wars will end.
Perhaps, it will take time. In God’s time. In the Quran, Ishmael is a prophet. He is the ancestor of the Arab people, and thus, of Islam. Ishmael is in the “litany of remembrances” — a list of Islamic saints whose exemplary obedience of Allah is for all Muslims to follow.
We trace our roots to Isaac; Islam to Ishmael. When will we come together in peace? When I taught high school students in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, my students come together for parties. My Muslim students would invite their classmates for a birthday party. I delighted in these parties, seeing all of them enjoying each other’s company.
To me, these are moments of peace. And thus, moments that remind us that peace is possible. In the Bible and the Quran, both Isaac and Ishmael, came together to bury their father, Abraham. If we look at what we both share like a common father as Abraham, we can bury the hatchet and eat together in peace. In The West Wing, a line became striking to me: “All wars are crimes.” Indeed, no one wins in conflicts. But come to think of it: Both Islam and Christianity is built on peace.