Hagar, Seen and Heard
Scripture: Genesis 16 & 21
I’ve never found the story of Hagar and Ishmael included in a standard rotation of stories leading up to the Christmas season. After all, the common biblical formula is “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” the father of multitudes, the child of promise and father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Despite this I am attracted to the subplot of Hagar and Ishmael because there is something familiar about the marginalization they experienced.
Twice Hagar experienced marginalization, which led to despair, and then desperation. The first time, her own bad attitude coupled with the capricious actions of her mistress Sarah, left her without hope trying to survive, heavy with child, in the desert. The second time, Abraham sent her away himself, out of his plot line for good.
The English idiom, ‘for good,’ implies finality, and is used whether or not the final outcome is particularly ‘good or not. For Hagar, winding up in the desert the second time, cast out, unable to care for Ishmael and convinced of her death was certainly not ‘good’ for her, but one cannot miss God’s overall good intent for her in this story. In this context ‘for good’ takes on a hopeful meaning.
I want to be careful with my words here, because all I really want to say is that even those who appear outside of the perceived plan of God, are not outside of God’s overarching love, care and careful direction. I may not however say it as well as I would like.
There are many people who do not live in the mainstream, who do not make up the majority, who don’t fair well when compared to whatever defines normal. They live obscure marginalized subplots that are often and too easily covered over and forgotten. When they do make noise, because of despair, desperation and with a certain straightforward simplicity that makes people uncomfortable, they are dismissed or silenced or hidden away for being quarrelsome or improper or unlovely.
There are sadder margins to live in than the one defined by Autism, which is mine. The world of disabilities has many advocating voices and a segment of government approval. Despite this however, persons of disability are not often found in the mainstream, not physically present, not represented according to their statistical reality and constantly have to fight to retain even a tenuous foothold. Their subplots run underneath the story of mainstream culture, unread, and sometimes obliterated.
Hagar’s story reminds me of these stories and I know, even though I live in one sort of margin, I remain insensitive to so many others.
I want to invite you to pay special attention to the two names that are given to God in the narrative pieces of Hagar and Ishmael’s story. They are ‘the God who hears’ and ‘the God who sees’. They are given to God by Hagar because this is how she experienced God in her marginalization. They are characteristics that we also see demonstrated so consistently in Jesus. Jesus heard the anguish in the father whose son was stricken with epilepsy, he saw the woman at the well and met her and her people with respect, he saw Zacchaeus and made friends with him, he heard blind Bartimaeus cry out and he stopped to listen and bring healing. By doing so he lifted their subplots and made them The Story.
I can speak from my own margin, but perhaps there is another that will come to weigh on your heart as you read. See them; hear them and joyfully join Jesus to journey into their stories. You will reap not only joy, but courage and transformation as well.
Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen
If you have the time this clip of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well taken from the movie The Visual Bible – The Gospel of John
(The icon is taken from a small verse in the Ishmael narrative: “God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and become an archer.” Gen 21:20 )