4 Pentecost, Year A: The Purgative Way

Hagar and Ishmael by George Hitchcock | Wikimedia Commons

Sunday’s Readings | 4 Pentecost, June 25

Gen. 21:8-21 or Jer. 20:7-13

Ps. 86:1-10, 16-17

or Ps. 69:8-11 (12-17), 18-20

Rom. 6:1b-11

Matt. 10:24-39

Unlike the thief who comes to destroy and kill, Jesus comes so that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). “I have said these things to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). In Christ, we enter an inexpressible joy, a palace of peace, a homeland secure, and a landscape replete with sacramental showings.

It is not always like this, as you well know. New life and profound joy sometimes arrive at the far end of a long trial, an arduous journey, and many tears. Amid all this, it may seem that hope is lost. It may seem that joy will never return. This is the way of death and the only path to resurrection in its deepest sense. “Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

The story of pain, loss, and death is the story of human beings. A prophet of old, Jeremiah, was called to speak on behalf of God, and yet his words met rejection, and he endured the scorn and hatred of the people. He tried to leave his task but could not. “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer. 20:9). Have you ever faced a moral obligation, a bounden duty, something that must be done? It may have been something quite small, or something ominous and life-changing, but it was (or is) a task you abhor or at least intensely dislike. You try to turn away but cannot. It is your task, an obligation you alone can carry out. Life was hard for Jeremiah. “For I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All my close friends are watching for me to stumble” (Jer. 20:10). Jeremiah is in the great tribulation.

A story is told of an old slave woman named Hagar who, along with her son Ishmael, was banished to the wilderness of Beer-sheba. It is a difficult story to hear and more difficult to see. “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. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bow shot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child’” (Gen. 21:14-16). This moment is Hagar’s personal hell.

In the end, Jeremiah praises the Lord; Hagar and Ishmael are delivered. The period of their suffering, however, we know as a great mystery described by St. Paul in these words: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). We may wish it otherwise, but it remains true that suffering often is a purgative path to new life. “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).

Look It Up: Psalm 86:16

Think About It: Hagar cries as if from a cross, “Save the child of your handmaid.”


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