Earlier this week I was on the bus and took my seat near the back. I noticed the man sitting alone in the back row, clearly already drinking despite the fact it was 10 am, but also clearly so far into his alcoholism that his functioning while drunk was pretty high. He was polite and quiet.
He noticed that I noticed him, so I said hello. He seemed surprised that I greeted him, but grateful.
I had planned to read on the bus, so I did. My reading clearly communicated that I wasn't planning to chat, and with that our interaction ended, that is until I got to my stop. As I was getting up to leave he asked if the next stop was the stop was Mission. There were multiple people closer to him, and they were all silent. He wasn't talking to me, he was talking to anyone that would listen, and they were all silent.
Silent. Unwilling to see or hear the man next to them as he asked a simple question.
I turned around and informed him that yes the next stop was Mission. His expression of gratitude was much greater than I deserved, and I am sure it came not from being glad I could offer him direction, but from the fact I was willing to see him.
As I have lived in this city for over 4 years and even as I lived in Dallas, Waco and Mobile, I have seen that one of the saddest elements of poverty is that those of us that are not poor often refuse to see. We look past and are unwilling to hear people.
I will acknowledge that I have been cursed at by many people for not giving them money- but much, much more often, when I look at someone and answer their question, even when my answer is no, they stop and are grateful to be seen.
This past week in context group we were discussing the story of Hagar. She is a slave and yet she is one of the few women in the Bible referred to by name. She is slave and yet when she flees in desperation she is seen by God and that seeing is significant. It is so significant that it is recorded as part of the narrative that gives us a framework for the covenant and the work of God through Abraham.
Furthermore, in response to being seen by God Hagar names God. She gives God a name because God sees her and that name is recorded. This is kind of shocking because as I mentioned twice already she is a slave and slaves don't get to name things, let alone name God. Nonetheless, God sees fit to allow this and to even bless her off spring, because God sees her.
God, the Creator, who has created a covenant with Abram and Sarai, not Hagar, sees a Hagar, despite the fact that she is a slave: a social nobody: the equivalent of a homeless man on a bus.
If God is willing to take the time to see a slave girl that has been discarded and we feel that we are called to follow after God, I feel like maybe we should take more time to see people.