Ishmael and Isaac

Friends in Christ, today we read this rather strange account about Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham had been promised by God that he would be the father of a dynasty, but instead of waiting for God’s time, his wife Sarah, in her impatience, induces her husband to have a child with her Egyptian slave, Hagar. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. But this was not God’s plan and His angel told them so.
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But then when Abraham and Sarah were quite old, they DID give birth, to a son: Isaac. He was the heir, through whom the promises of God would come. It is from Isaac that would come Jacob, and David, and Jesus, the Savior.
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So what is the real, spiritual meaning of all of this strange story? Well, in this case, we needn’t speculate. St. Paul himself explains it.
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He writes: Abraham had two sons, the one by a slave-girl and the other by a free woman. The son of the slave-girl was born according to the flesh, but the son of the free woman, in virtue of the promise. These, he says, represent the two covenants. The one of bondage which is Hagar, which corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem, and the other is the child of the Promise, of the New Jerusalem which is above, in heaven, and is free.
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Notice too, yesterday, the birth of John the Baptist, – he was born naturally. John the Baptist represents the end of the Old Covenant. This is contrasted with Christ, who is born to a virgin – a supernatural birth, not according to the flesh.
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The Old Covenant represents living with the heart set on the things of THIS world; but children of the New Covenant of grace, live with our eyes set on the Heavenly Jerusalem, our Mother. The path to the New Jerusalem, in which we participate now, this is the path of freedom and grace.
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An ancient Talmudic tradition said that Ishmael often treated Isaac badly. St. Paul uses this to explain that those who live for this world according to the flesh, often give trouble to Christians who live according to the Spirit. Let us therefore, walk not in the flesh, which means sin and slavery, but let us walk in the Spirit, as children of the Promise.

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