While I was home a few years back, I went through the boxes of my memorabilia, trying to decide what I could throw away and what I should keep, trying to scale everything down for easier storage. Mom and Dad were gone, and the home that they built for us and the convenient storage place for all of that stuff we collected along life’s hi-way, was up for sale. Reading old letters and seeing the names of people I had long ago forgotten, opened up files in my memory system that explain much of my behavior and partiality today. One of those memories is of Eddie, a neighbor kid who lived on the other side of us on Bluebird Street. Eddie was a few years younger than I was but we often played together and were good friends, until one day when we got into a fight during a neighborhood softball game. Eddie’s eye got swollen from accidentally running into a bat and he ran home crying… only to return a few minutes later with his irate mother. She was very concerned for her son and began shouting at us. My mother heard the commotion and came out to defend us but, by the time it was over, both of them had said things about each other that they regretted. Their relationship never healed and because of that, neither did ours, and even today my memories of Eddie, after that incident, are negative. Now that I realize this however, I wish there were some way of finding him and trying to resolve our differences.
Often, when we take the time to seriously look at ourselves, we realize that many of our prejudices actually started out as simple misunderstandings between either ourselves or those that have had an influence on us at some point in our lives. Realization of these misunderstandings can start us out on a path of understanding that shows us why we are who we are and how we can begin to make positive changes in our character. I know it can work on a personal level but I wonder if it could also work on a larger scale?
One of the biggest problems in this world today is the relationship between Jews and Christians and the Muslim people. Each side can come up with numerous accusations and accounts of injustices that explain why they feel as they do toward each other… but what if we were to go back to the beginning, to where it all started? What if all of the problems in this world today were the result of one single person? Could the realization of this also put the world on a pathway to reconciliation? Regardless of what we personally think of the Bible, the stories in it have had a great influence on all of the peoples of the world. One of those stories is about Abraham and Sarah. The birth of Ishmael was planned by the Abraham’s first wife Sarah who sought a way to have children in order to fulfill what she believed was God’s promise. Since she was unable to have children herself, her idea was to offer her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar to Abraham, so that they could have a child by her. Customs of that time dictated that, although Hagar was the birth mother, any child conceived would belong to Sarah and Abraham.
Ishmael was circumcised when he was thirteen years old because his father Abraham, at the age of ninety-nine was initiated into a covenant by having himself and his entire household circumcised. A year later, Ishmael’s half-brother Isaac, was born to Abraham and his first wife Sarah. One day Sarah was angered by seeing Ishmael playing or “mocking” her son and she asked Abraham to expel him and his mother, saying: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” Abraham initially refused to do as Sarah asked but after much deliberation, he released Ishmael and Hagar as slaves.
At the age of fourteen, Ishmael became a free man along with his mother. Under Mesopotamian law, their freedom absolved them from laying claim to any inheritance that Abraham and Sarah had. Abraham gave Ishmael and his mother a minimal supply of bread and water and sent them on their way to wander in the desert wilderness of Beersheba. After roaming the wilderness for sometime, Ishmael and his mother settled in the Desert of Paran, where he became an expert in archery. Eventually, his mother found him a wife from the land of Egypt. He had twelve sons who became twelve tribal chiefs throughout the regions from Havilah to Shur (from Assyria to the border of Egypt) The Prophet Muhammad, who is the founder of Islam, is a descendant of Ishmael.
Those who know this story well will notice that I have removed all of the conversations that Sarah and Abraham supposedly had with God and his Angels. I did so because I do not believe that God has ever spoken to anyone in this way… for if he had, he would still be speaking to people today in the same manner, and although there are those who claim he does, they are, in my opinion, only racketeers hoping to cash in on the ignorance of fools. I am not saying however, that it is not possible for mankind to know and understand the Mind of God.
How unfortunate that Sarah and Hagar could not have come to an understanding between themselves during their lifetime. What a difference it would have made to their sons and the people of their generation if they had. Even sadder is the fact that because of Sarah’s greed, the whole world now sits on the brink of destruction. Isn’t it time we come to an understanding of this and begin the process of reconciliation?
Wayne Dale Matthysse