Most families have a story or two in the family history that are less than flattering. We tend to take those stories and shove them into the far back of the closet, hoping no one asks about them so we don’t have to deal with the discomfort of recognizing not all of our ancestors were good and honorable people all the time. We don’t usually include the slave-owning plantation owner very prominently in the family histories, or highlight the one who ignored the rules of war in the American conquest of the West. We try pretty hard to hide the tricksters and the swindlers in the family line. So it’s really important that we retell this story we hear from Genesis this morning—the sordid tale of how Abraham and Sarah treated Hagar and Ishmael.
We didn’t read about her origins in our Sunday readings this year, but Hagar was a slave that Sarah got while they were in Egypt. She became important when Sarah and Abraham started to get impatient with God’s timing on giving them an heir, and in their impatience they used Hagar as a surrogate. And although Sarah was happy to finally have a son to present to Abraham, the fact that it was Hagar and not her who delivered him gnawed at her, and she took it out on Hagar. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s in there.