- Genesis 21: 8-21
The Abraham/Sarah narrative continues. The time has come to celebrate the weaning of Isaac. Sarah expels from the household Hagar, the slave woman who bore a son, Ishmael, to Abraham when Sarah was still barren fourteen years earlier. In the wilderness, Hagar is panicked over the fate of herself and her son. God hears the voice of the child and promises to Hagar that he, too, will be the first father of a great nation. Then God shows her a source or water in the wilderness.
- Psalm 86: 1-10, 16-17
The psalmist describes his dire situation as lonely, needy, hated, and shamed. But he places his fate in the Lord’s grace.
- Jeremiah 20: 7-13
Jeremiah dreads the task of being a doom-sayer. But he also believes that the passion within him, because it is so intense, could be from God. Therefore, he trusts that at some point in the future God will bring some retribution on those who are torturing him now. “O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind: let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.”
- Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
The psalmist’s loyalty to God has been costly to him. His relationships with his family, his image in the community have all been lost. “Come near and redeem me, ransom me,” he pleads to God.
- Romans 6: 1b-11
Paul argues that the followers of Jesus should expect to experience a kind of death– “die to sin”– but, as with Jesus himself, this death will lead to life greater than was ever thought possible.
- Matthew 10: 24-39
Jesus has been called crazy and even possessed. His followers should also expect such hatred. Following him could alienate family. “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it….”
Biblical texts do not endorse conventional human values, no matter how noble, pious, appealing, sacrosanct or venerable. Indeed, as these readings and today’s gospel demonstrate, biblical texts can pointedly challenge our most dearly held priorities and assumptions.
In the Abraham/Sarah narrative, the divine promise of a son is complicated by family jealousy, conflicting claims of legitimacy and rivalry between family members. The prophet Jeremiah loses friends, status and personal security to accomplish God’s work, which consumes is life. Jesus publicly renounces his family and also raises the possibility/likelihood that those who follow him might lose all they value in life “for his sake.”
In his brooding meditation (midrash?) on the Abraham/Sarah narrative, Jacques Derrrida in The Gift of Death imagines God saying to Abraham:
“I can see right away that you have understood what absolute duty to the unique one means, that it means responding where there is no reason to be asked for or given; I see that you have not only understood that as an idea, but that– and here lies the responsibility– you have acted on it…” “You had the courage to behave like a murderer in the eyes of the world and of your loved ones, in the eyes of morality, politics….” (pp 72-73)
Surely no one can reasonably conclude that biblical texts are commanding disruption or even severance of normal human relationships as a goal within themselves. But these same texts do insist on the possibility that for each person to fulfill her or his own unique spiritual, moral or psychological responsibilities as a higher calling to God’s purposes there can be personal loss. This may be the price to fulfill a unique commitment. It is not a sacrifice we seek; it is a possibility we acknowledge.