14So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” 19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. 20God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Genesis 21: 14 – 21 (NRSV)
Abraham, Sarah….and Hagar.
The names and stories we are most familiar with are the ones surrounding the legendary Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was faithful. Sarah gave birth well into her advanced years. Both were hospitable to traveling strangers.
But Hagar has a story, too. Out of her story comes her son — Ishmael. This is the Ishmael who was abandoned by his faithful father, Abraham and forced to flee with his mother because of the complaints of Sarah.
There is so much to unpack in the intertwining of the lives of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. I’ll leave that for another day because today, I’m thinking about Ishmael: boys who are just out there with the promise of death hovering so immanently over them that loved ones turn away. They can’t bear to stick around to witness “what the end will be.”
You can insert in this story the name of so many little boys and so many little girls — children who are caught up in the crazy drama of the lives of the adults around them. For the sake of our sanity and because of the truth of our faith, we know that God hears them.
The question here, however, is not about God — it is about us.
Do we hear?
Is there some cool refreshing “water” we can offer?
And, do we have the guts to transform the wildernesses into which the Ishmael’s of the world are thrust into beloved communities where no child is forced to walk alone, and where no child languishes under the bushes of a lonely tree?
This scripture haunts my sleep. I will return to it again and again, I suppose, until my ultimate questions are answered.
God was with Ishmael, the scripture says, and he became an expert with the bow. Granted, he needed a bow in the wilderness. Children still need “bows” today to fight for their survival. Their wilderness enemies are not Ishmael’s wild beasts, but the wild beasts of low aim, low expectations, poor health, educational disparities, institutional racism, poverty, hopelessness and adult hypocrisy.
How do we arm them with “bows” to fight these enemies?
And, how do we help them to see the difference between the kind of fighting that always produces victims — and the Isaiah 2:4 kind of fight: the fight for the justice that produces peace brought about by swords beaten into plowshares, spears turned into pruning hooks, and courage to put down the studies of war and pick up the hopeful work of peace and bridge-building?
God has heard, for sure.
God needs adults to stop stop pushing children under the trees of bureaucracy, apathy and lack of vision. God needs us to stop being so distant and emotionally removed.
We’ve got work to do — the work of arming our children with a different kind of bow because the wilderness of still ripe with beasts.