The story of salvation is the story of ordinary people given extraordinary significance. And we catch some of the purely human in a narrative intended to explain the special place God’s people hold in the divine heart, and the mystery of those who seem to be excluded. The wonder of God’s word is that even in the midst of grand symbolism, we find an aching humanness: Sarah’s jealousy, Abraham’s anguish, Hagar’s pain.
Abraham felt overwhelming joy when his slave girl presents him with a son: Ishmael. But the joy was brief: Abraham must cast off Hagar and his son if God’s covenant is to be fulfilled.
Our Lord knew something of the rejection Hagar felt. The people of Gadara rejoiced at the healing of the demoniacs, men who doubtless were their own sons and brothers. But then, faced with this powerful and dangerous holy man, they invite him to leave. After all, he’s just sent their livelihood, the herd of pigs, slipping and sliding into the sea. So, like Hagar, Jesus is cast out into the desert.
In his gospel, St. Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus has a cosmic significance, that he is indeed God-with-us and not just a man who heals people. But, as with Abraham and his family, we see here, too, a human dimension as well, the gentle healer rejected because of his compassion and his great power.
God’s plan for all of us is worked out in the littleness of daily life: in the personal conflict and tragedy of Hagar and Ishmael, in the healing presence of Jesus and his rejection by the grateful but frightened Gadarenes. The Scriptures tell us again and again of big symbols reflected in ordinary life: election and rejection, healing and exile. Let us reflect a little today on how these themes play out on the stage of our own lives.