Time is a funny thing.
Genesis 25:7-8, “Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people” (NIV).
Time is a funny thing, and we never have enough of it.
Abraham was old when Isaac was born, and I recognize that people lived longer in the Old Testament narrative than we live, today, but it’s interesting to consider the seventy-five years he had with this son. From a contemporary perspective, I’d be quite pleased if either of my parents is still living when I am seventy-five. That would make my dad 106, my mom 102. To be a centenarian is a worthy goal, and at least the women on my dad’s side of the family appear to have the capacity to live that long (I sure hope I have those genes), so it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility; but it’s still never enough.
I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around Abraham’s life story for the past couple of weeks. To be honest, it’s more than a little disturbing to me in ways that it never has been, before. The father of nations… (the father of our faith!)… the Abraham I’m uncovering is just not the one about whom I sang in children’s church (right foot, left foot, nod your head, turn around, sit down). He’s not the one about whom I memorized facts from the ‘hall of faith’ (see Hebrews 11). He’s not the one who had one son whom he loved but would sacrifice if God asked him to do so. Oh, I don’t doubt that he had one son, whom he loved. But he had another, whom he did, in fact, sacrifice… and another… and another… and another… OK, six others!
At his death, most of them have been sent away. They are no longer present. But here comes Ishmael to help his brother Isaac with the burial… Ishamel who was, indeed, the first son… Ishamel who received no inheritance… Ishmael who didn’t have enough time.
I don’t even know what to make of this. Ishmael’s forfeit of his family, birthright, and future goes unheralded. Even today (and a lot of time has passed), his people are (at best) that other nation, most preferably out of sight, out of mind. Yet I want to return to that moment when God promises Hagar that God will care for her people, too. There can be no ‘us and them.’ At the expense of flirting with heresy… all people are God’s people.
This may never be displayed more profoundly than at Abraham’s death, when the first son… the unloved son (I’m taking some creative liberty here, and a case could be made that Abraham did love Ishmael, but actions speak loud)… comes home to the father who left him and the brother who took everything and experiences just one more moment of sonship, helping Isaac carry his father’s body to the cave where he may be “gathered to his people” (v.8), a people who should also be Ishmael’s… a people who were, indeed, Ishamel’s for many years… but who will no longer be.
Broken relationship… however it may happen… is always to be lamented. In some cases, it’s necessary, but I would venture to say this occurs less frequently than we might imagine. In many cases, I think given more time… more patience… more raw truth and communication… more tolerance… more commitment... more love… we might, in turn, find more healing than heaving. We might come together before death is the only thing that unites us. But that’s a lot of more…
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