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March 28, 2012 – Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent. The reading is from Gospel of John 8:31-42

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free. I know that you are descendants of Abraham. But you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you. I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.”

They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father!”

[So] they said to him, “We are not illegitimate. We have one Father, God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me.

In today’s gospel reading we are reminded that Jesus’ origin precedes Abraham.

They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33)

Historically, the Jews were enslaved almost continuously, this verse is probably an irony by John – not physical slavery but slavery to sin.

A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. (John 8:35)

In the Old Testament we have:

  • When you purchase a Hebrew slave, he is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year he shall leave as a free person without any payment. (Exodus 21:2)
  • If your kin, a Hebrew man or woman, sells himself or herself to you, he or she is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year you shall release him or her as a free person. (Deuteronomy 15:12)

In John 8:35, John must be alluding to Ishmael, the son of the slave Hagar, and Isaac the son born to Sarah. The whole Chapter 16 of Genesis is devoted to the Birth of Ishmael.

Birth Of Ishmael

Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no children. Now she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar.

Sarah leading Hagar to Abram by Matthias Stomer (1620-50)

Sarai said to Abram: “The LORD has kept me from bearing children. Have intercourse with my maid; perhaps I will have sons through her.”

Abram obeyed Sarai. Thus, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, his wife Sarai took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. He had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. As soon as Hagar knew she was pregnant, her mistress lost stature in her eyes.

So Sarai said to Abram: “This outrage against me is your fault. I myself gave my maid to your embrace; but ever since she knew she was pregnant, I have lost stature in her eyes. May the LORD decide between you and me!”

Abram told Sarai: “Your maid is in your power. Do to her what you regard as right.” Sarai then mistreated her so much that Hagar ran away from her.

The LORD’s angel found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur, and he asked, “Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”

She answered, “I am running away from my mistress, Sarai.”

But the LORD’s angel told her: “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority. I will make your descendants so numerous,” added the LORD’s angel, “that they will be too many to count.”

Then the LORD’s angel said to her:

“You are now pregnant and shall bear a son;
you shall name him Ishmael,
For the LORD has heeded your affliction.

He shall be a wild ass of a man,
his hand against everyone,
and everyone’s hand against him;
Alongside all his kindred
shall he encamp.”

To the LORD who spoke to her she gave a name, saying, “You are God who sees me”; she meant, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after he saw me?”

That is why the well is called Beer-lahai-roi. It is between Kadesh and Bered.

Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram named the son whom Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

God shows compassion to pregnant Hagar in the wilderness. This is reflected in the following verse:

For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18)

Hagar is bidden by the angel to name her son Ismael meaning “God listens.”

Birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:1-21)

Sarah and Isaac by Scott Snow (Oil on canvas, 2000)

The LORD took note of Sarah as he had said he would; the LORD did for her as he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time that God had stated.

Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his whom Sarah bore him. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded.

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Sarah then said, “God has given me cause to laugh, and all who hear of it will laugh with me. Who would ever have told Abraham,” she added, “that Sarah would nurse children! Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham held a great banquet on the day of the child’s weaning.

Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac; so she demanded of Abraham: “Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

Abraham was greatly distressed because it concerned a son of his.

But God said to Abraham: Do not be distressed about the boy or about your slave woman. Obey Sarah, no matter what she asks of you; for it is through Isaac that descendants will bear your name. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, since he too is your offspring.

Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away.

As she roamed aimlessly in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, the water in the skin was used up. So she put the child down under one of the bushes, and then went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away; for she said to herself, “I cannot watch the child die.”

As she sat opposite him, she wept aloud.

Agar în deşert by Gheorghe Tattarescu (1870)

God heard the boy’s voice, and God’s angel called to Hagar from heaven: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not fear; God has heard the boy’s voice in this plight of his. Get up, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink.

God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert bowman.

He lived in the wilderness of Paran. His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence; then do what you have heard from the Father.” (John 8:38)

Here “the Father” in the first part of the verse is Jesus’ father – God. But in the second part of the verse “the Father” could be a sarcastic reference to descent of the Jews from the devil for in John 8:44 , we read,

You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. ((John 8:44)

So, the second part of John 8:38 could be paraphrased as “then do what you have heard from [your] father.”

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