Sarah noticed the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing with her son Isaac; so she demanded of Abraham: "Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!" Abraham was greatly distressed, especially on account of his son Ishmael. But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed about the boy or about your slave woman. Heed the demands of Sarah, no matter what she is asking of you; for it is through Isaac that descendants shall bear your name. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a great nation of him also, since he too is your offspring."
Early the next morning Abraham got some bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. Then, placing the child on her back, he sent her away. As she roamed aimlessly in the desert of Beersheba, the water in the skin was used up. So she put the child down under a shrub, and then went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away; for she said to herself, "Let me not watch to see the child die." As she sat opposite Ishmael, he began to cry. God heard the boy's cry, and God's messenger called to Hagar from heaven: "What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid; God has heard the boy's cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, then let the boy drink. God was with the boy as he grew up.
When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tomb met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?" Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, "If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine." And he said to them, "Go!" So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.
It is hard to see what help we could get from the story of Abraham banishing the slave woman and her son. It's equally problematic in the next chapter how Abraham could believe that God wanted him to kill his son Isaad as a religious sacrifice. In our morality we could not possibly accept either decision (banishing his illegitimate son or slaying his true-born son) as a mandate from the invisible God. But Abraham, a man of primitive faith some four thousand years ago, was following what he thought to be right. This is the basic rule of conscience: we should judge every decision in the light of what we know.
Abraham judged what he should do, in the light of contemporary custom. Infant sacrifice was widespread, as was polygamy. But in Hagar's case he seems to violate another contemporary custom--the law of hospitality and the obligation to protect anyone received into the group! How could he in conscience drive out Hagar and her son? Maybe in light of Sarah's insistence that Isaac is his rightful heir!
Clearly, not everything in the Bible is to be followed literally. In faith and trust Abraham did all that he believed God was asking of him; and he would gradually learn from Life experience how to move on from his earlier convictions. That is how God's providence guides our lives. At the story's end we see how God provides for Hagar and Ishmael, for His providence is universal. God's care for the poor is perhaps the basic moral of the story.
Today's Gospel has the odd story of how a set of demons that Jesus has driven out from a wild man then begged him to let them enter into a nearby herd of pigs. As soon as they enter the pigs, the whole herd rushes headlong over a cliff and drowns in the lake below. The swineherds and the nearby townspeople not surprisingly, begged Jesus to go somewhere else. The pigs might be ritually unclean, but they had economic value just the same. The purpose of the story, of course, is to focus on Jesus' power to liberate people from evil influences that held them enslaved. The stampede of the pigs just adds an extra flair of drama to the tale.
The gospel says Jesus brings two demoniacs to a a full life. It is striking that after doing this, the people of the region implored him to leave the neighbourhood. It might have been expected that they would have wanted Jesus, this man who could bring freedom to the enslaved, to stay among them for some time. Surely there were others in this region who could benefit from the presence of God's power at work in Jesus. Perhaps the people were nervous of such power for good, fearing that it might make demands on them. We too can be tempted to ask Jesus to leave our neighbourhood, to leave our lives. We sometimes want to keep him at a distance. We sense that his nearness might be very demanding. He might call us to go out towards those who live on the edge of the community, as he himself went out towards the two demoniacs who lived among the tombs. Yet, if we welcome the Lord into our lives, rather than keeping him at a distance, we will discover that he gives us the strength to respond to the challenging call of his presence and in responding to that call we too will find a greater fullness of life.