|FEBRUARY 2011||DEVOTIONAL MESSAGE||
HAGAR : THE INVISIBLE WOMAN
God is saddened at the current state of affairs in this world. While God is saddened, world is rejoicing and when Heaven is rejoicing man is saddened. We notice an effusive controversy of the perceptions of God/Heaven and man/world. Terrorist’s attacks were there not only in our cities but it is prevailing through out world, everywhere. We accuse certain people for the upsurge of these extremist operations. We should know that all grave dangers menacing the mankind neither come from any specific person nor from any specific community and there is none that conclusively links as a sole cause to resort to devastating acts, but it is germinated from the very nature of man caused out of social injustice and inequalities in the distribution of scarce resources. If passions of violence and hatred prove stronger than that of love and justice there will be predicted dangers and peril. We need not be prophets to know these facts. The urge of man to do annihilating violence is strengthening day by day. The more the strength of hatred, the more there will be the prospects of violence.
Blaming others for any cause and shirking away from the real problem is a usual attitude of man. We constantly consciously and unconsciously make judgments about other people. We all believe in pretense, pretending to be someone whom the audience likes and accepts. But a far more common problem people suffer from is finding excuses not to take action. Winners find a way to win while losers find an excuse. Excuses become obstacle in our journey to success. There is a satirical story I heard about the renowned Family counselor Fr. Joseph Puthenpurakal. One day Achen was giving sermon in the Parish. At the beginning the people were attentive and later they were seen distractive. Achen was sad and wanted to call their attention back. In a loud voice Achen made a declaration, "Verily, Verily I say to you that all the members of this parish will die before next Friday". Everyone in the congregation were shocked at Achen's odd declaration except for one man who was seen a kind of standoffish. Achen repeated the declaration once again; still that man was seen reclusive. When the service was over, Achen approached that man and asked him why he was not bothered with the warning. The man told, I am not a member of this parish, I came for service from another parish and Achen was referring only members of this parish and it is not concerned about me. This man represents all who find excuse for everything.
We are aware about many biblical spiritual stalwarts like Elijah, Moses, Peter etc. who displayed daring faith and courage in dismal time and critical junctures of their mission. But the character of this episode is not strong as them. Hagar was an obscure Egyptian slave woman, whose name and story was heard only by Providence, which brought her into the household of Abraham. She was neither physically attractive nor have anything meritorious to claim. Though the story had a peaceful end, the climax is also not that attractive. She owned God’s providence in her affliction. What we should notice here is God cares the two extreme heroes equally. She is a portrait of equality before God. We worship a God who cares equally. So the first thing about Hagar’s story for all of us is that God’s care and God’s concern is not exclusively with the chosen people but for all His creation.
We can introduce this slave girl, Hagar, as triply oppressed:
Hagar was not from the chosen race of God, but she was an Egyptian to be discriminated for that cause. She was never called by her name, which is put by her foreign parents. Professionally she was a maidservant of Abraham and Sarah and they were her masters. She was the last grade employee of Abraham’s household. Gender wise, being a woman itself is enough for discrimination. A woman born in a Patriarch family is considered as a curse.
Hagar was an invisible slave in the family of Abraham. It was not that no one could see her, it was just that she didn’t matter that much. Hagar was seen and yet not seen by Abraham and Sarah. G. Padmanaphan's Novel, 'Darkness' portraits a similar character. If she cries, nobody is there in the household to take it seriously. She should withdraw herself to obscurity. Her value was strictly in her usefulness. There is no love for her in the house. If any guest comes to the house her face should not be seen outside. Though she is not dump, she is called by a pseudonym ‘dump and fool’. She might have thought of reacting, but she had no right to react. Maid's food and the Master's food are different. We may say excuses that these are irrelevant to our household and try to run away from the problem. But if this is what is happened in the house of the Father of Believer’s, Abraham, what is the situation of our houses. And yet this invisible woman, this unimportant member of the un-chosen people, occupies an important place in the story of God’s relationship with the chosen people.
When Sarah hit upon the idea of using Hagar as a surrogate mother, there is no indication whatsoever that Hagar’s thoughts on the matter were ever consulted. Inordinate desires commonly produce irregular endeavors. Hagar was a mere commodity or instrument in the hands of her mistress as it is written that Sarah took her and gave to Abraham. So easy! The will and heart of the slave girl had no value for their masters. It was not the dream of the slave girl to lie with Abraham and bear a son of Abraham in her womb. She was mere a tool.
A most unreasonable jealousy suspecting that Abraham countenanced Hagar’s insolence shattered the dreams of the slave girl in no time. If our materials are lost we can regain, but the dreams cannot be. Her masters had strength, but she is alone and helpless. Her consciousness might have urged her to react. But she could not react, as she had no freedom to do so. Hagar did not have any option except to run away from Home. Hagar is now afflicted, and driven from the house, deserted her service, and ran away from the house.
In the lyrics of the poetic classic, "The Plantain Bunch (Vazhakkula)", of the great poet Changampuzha, it depicts the novelty of the same theme which sow the seed of a social revolution, to react on behalf of the miserable voice of the desolate and inconsolable like Hagar. When the rains lashed the earth, Malayappulayan eagerly planted a plantain sapling in the yard of his lowly hut. While each green foliage of the plant sprouted from the sapling, hopes began to spring out and dreams were blossomed in the heart of the family of Malayappulayan. His wife and children fondled the leaves as one among their little ones and danced around joyously with their belly burning. But when the fruit was ripe the Landlord came and ordered unmindfully to cut the plantain fruit and put on his own shoulder and bring to the Landlord's house. The dreams of the family of the Malayappulayan were shattered and only mourning remained in his house. The helpless, feeble and forlorn, their agony and distress, who cares to know?
God enters in such situations. God saw the runaway slave. When God sees Hagar He was not only seeing Hagar, but also many who are suppressed, persecuted, tortured and downtrodden. Omnipresent God knew well, where Hagar is. God knows each one's location; nobody can hide away from him. God knows where about of 6.30 billion people of the population of this world. Heaven's whole energy is conserved on each person. God made sue-motto action on behalf of Hagar. As Psalmist said of it, in such a time, in such a strait, the Lord heard the voice of my affliction, and helped me. God is the creator of Universe, and the judge of the world. Hagar was not a believer, she only knew the God of her master Abraham. However God heard the cry of Hagar and respected her personality. God of pity sometimes graciously hears the cry of affliction. God calls her by the name given by her parents, by which nobody else called her. Tears speak as well as prayers. Here is the first mention we have in scripture of an angel’s appearance. Hagar is the first woman in the Bible to be visited by a divine messenger. God regarded her as a valued person, when she was ignored and dismissed by everyone else in her community as an unimportant, invisible woman.
Hagar, where from you came and where do you go? Her answer was honest, and a fair confession: I flee from the face of my mistress. God cared for Hagar. God promised an undomesticated future for her. He sent her back, with suitable and compassionate counsel: "Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hand. Go home, and humble thyself”. God’s commands consult our comfort and honor much better than our own contrivances do. She immediately promised to do so, and was setting her face homeward. A prediction concerning her posterity had given her solace in her distress. It is a great comfort to women with child to think that they are under the particular cognizance and care of the divine Providence. He named her child, which was an honor to her: Call him Ishmael, 'God will hear'; God of pity sometimes graciously hears the cry of affliction. The privilege of our communion with God is to be looked upon with wonder and admiration, the name, which this gave to the place: Beer-lahai-roi. God gave her all the promises that God gave to Abraham. The God with whom we have to do is a seeing God, and all-seeing God. She is giving God a name from her own experience. It was the most significant day in her life. Hagar is the only person in the whole Bible who dared to give God a name.
When the slave girl saw the Lord face to face she was seeing herself. There is a story written by C.V. Balakrishnan. The name of the story is "The Road which God walks". The hero of the story is a man who is released after a long term in the jail. There were no family or friends for this man. The friends and relatives left him when he was jailed. When the man came to a narrow way he heard a voice from behind, "please stop" He turned back and saw a lean dirty boy with torn cloths. He told again, 'Why you were late, finally you came, I knew that you will definitely come, my mother told me that you will definitely come." My mother told even if you are late you would definitely come and you will be in any guise. The man asked him whether he knows who he is. The boy replied, you are none other than God; my Mom told that God will come in any manner and anywhere. Finally you came as I expected. The boy embraced the man. You did not know how much I suffered for all these years, but you came at last though it is late. The man looked to the eyes of the boy. There were tears in his eyes. He saw himself in the eyes of the boy.
Again, on the face of it, it seems that nothing much changes for Hagar at all. But the difference is that now Hagar knows that God knows her. She knew that God loves her and that she matters to God. And this can give her the strength to endure any hardship. This gives her hope where there was no hope. This gives her a sense of meaning and purpose to what had seemed to be a meaningless life. Hagar now knew herself and her relation with God.
The enemies conquered the palace of a king. The king and the queen were assassinated. The loyal servants of the king took away the young children to secured locations. An old servant took the youngest daughter. On the way, a villager entreated for that child. The servant gave the child to the villager and she grew in their house as their own daughter helping the parents in farming. After many years, an old lady saw her with the farmer in the field. She asked her who she is? She told I am the daughter of the farmer. The old lady told her, you are not the daughter of farmer; you are the daughter of the King. Though she knew that she is the daughter of the King, she continued to live with the farmer as their daughter, but with a different spirit. She began to think differently and act differently with the hidden sense that she of royal blood. In the Epistle of St. Peter we read the believing Christian are the chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who had called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. So a Christian should behave cautiously as a royal blood. When Hagar returned to her master's house, she was a different person. She knew herself, and what she is. Though she subdued to her masters doing the same score of job of cleaning the vessels and looking after the cows, she remembered the promise of God with her. She was confident about her call.
Again we see Hagar in the wilderness, now she had a small child in her hand. Sarah made the motion: Cast out this bondwoman. Hagar is in tears, and sufficiently mortified. In this distress, God graciously appeared for their relief: He heard the voice of the lad, the angel assured her of the cognizance God took of her distress: God has heard the voice of the lad where he is, though he is in a wilderness. No problems are too difficult for the Lord of Resurrection to deal with, stop mourning and seek in the risen Lord who can make all things new. This was not the Golgotha of Christ, but this was the Golgotha and Calvary of Hagar. Jesus told John, 'this is your mother' and told Mary, 'this is your son'. Jesus created a beautiful community at the foot of the cross. Here Hagar and Ishmael formed a new community. God protected the orphaned mother and the lad. A beautiful community is formed out of orphans.
The purpose of communion is to find such a helper near us. In a nutshell, what we learn from Hagar is:
In the light of the experience of Hagar we should analyze, what is the track record of Christians in the witness and mission of Jesus who is the eternal spring of life. Through our faith in Jesus Christ let us be raised to a new-elevated grade in our spiritual life. Let God bless us for the achievement of the same!
[Extract from Devotional Message delivered at Maramon Convention 2010
Original in Malayalam : Translated for LOL by Editor Dr. Rajan Mathew Philadelphia, USA]
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