Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16 or 16:6b-12, 15-16
When I was a seminarian, I had the opportunity to attend an evening of a Black Catholic Revival being held at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. When I got to the cathedral, up in front of the altar was an African-American woman giving a portrayal of Hagar, about whom we hear in our first reading from Genesis. The portrayal was sympathetic to Hagar’s point of view. In fact, when one reads this passage, it is easy to be sympathetic to Hagar and her son Ishmael, and Genesis tells us that God does indeed hear Hagar’s lament, and promises her that her son will be the ancestor of countless descendants. I think the woman portrayed Hagar in the first place because African-Americans could identify with the way Hagar was treated by Sarah.
It can be revelatory to hear Scripture being and interpreted by people of different cultures and backgrounds from one’s own. And it is in the context of being open to others, even when they are different, that can give us a perspective to our Gospel reading from Matthew. In the beginning of our reading, Jesus says something that probably would have startled His listeners: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Jesus then talks about many people who will try to remind Jesus that they prophesied and did great things in His name, and He will say, "I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers." Unfortunately in the history of Christianity, there have been people who have done things in the name of Jesus that had nothing to do with what Jesus said or did. For instance, it is my understanding that some people have justified prejudice and discrimination against others by categorizing them as descendants of Ishmael, who is described as a "wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone."
We need to be careful when we say or do things in the name of Jesus. We need to make sure that we are listening to Jesus‘ words and acting on them, not letting any of our biases or prejudices drive our behavior. The more we put our faith into practice, the stronger our foundation will be, just as Jesus says. May we listen to Jesus’ words and act on them.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center, Detroit, Michigan.