Many families today are living in intergenerational households and so may well identify with the sensitive situations that can arise as sibling rivalries develop and family friction ensues, just like in the Genesis 21 passage today. Our journey with Abraham, Sarah, and now Isaac, takes a dark turn as Hagar, the enslaved mother of Abraham’s son Ishmael, is cast out into the wilderness with Ishmael. From a joyous promise of blessing, a surprising birth and a celebration of Isaac’s growing healthily, there is now jealousy, casting out and a threat to the very lives of Hagar and Ishmael. At the point of greatest need, Ishmael cries out and God responds with the words “Don’t be afraid”, a promise of blessing and a path to rescue.
Our reading from Matthew 10 contains much that is challenging for modern hearers. The context may not be as dire as it was for Hagar and Ishmael, but the same words echo: “Don’t be afraid!”. A different time, a different context, yet still words that bring reassurance, comfort and hope. For Hagar and Ishmael, the hearers of Matthew’s Gospel, and for us, the exhortation “Don’t be afraid!” is a call to trust in the God who knows us deeply, cares for us compassionately and is with us forever.
As Romans 6 explores the meaning of baptism, we are reminded that in baptism we receive new life in Christ, new life to be lived for God. At the same, we are to remember that as well as sharing in Jesus’ being raised to life, we also share in Jesus’ suffering and death. Whilst it is important to remember that the words “Don’t be afraid” are spoken into situations that are disturbing, difficult, and even dire, they in no way diminish the gravity of the situation. Though it is true that they call us to trust in the God who knows us, cares for us, and may well provide a way through, there may be something else that is at least as important to remember – if we are in Christ and Christ is in us, then God is sharing in our pain and suffering along with us.
Written and Compiled by Judyth Roberts