In India, parents arrange the marriages of their children. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, parents have the final say. But if you are a woman, not only parents have the final say, they are also obliged to give a dowry for their daughters. Many times that will be in gold and recently it has been in household items, appliances, cars, property, and the list goes on. What was this dowery for in reality? It is to secure the future of their girls in the new home they are going to. It was to give a head-start to the young couple, a gift to begin a new life, by the parents and the family of the girls.
In the story of Leah and Rachel in the Old Testament, we do not see Laban willingly giving dowery to his prospective son-in-law but rather takes it from him. He makes him work for the love Jacob had towards Rachael. Eventually, Jacob did take more than just Rachael. He worked hard and then he took his share from Laban at the end. He took Leah, Rachael, The servants, the sheep and more.
If you think there is no justice in how God works, here is one. Jacob stole the birthright of his brother and truth be told, his mother coerced him to do it. But Jacob went along with the plan and took what was not his to take. Here is Jacob now in the same boat as a victim. Jacob was enamored of the beauty of Rachel, Laban’s second daughter. He wanted to marry Rachel before Leah, his first daughter. He asked Laban, Rachael’s father, for her hand. He promised to give her in marriage but he had to work seven years for it. At the end of the seventh year, he not only did not give Rachael to Jacob but tricked him into taking Leah, his older daughter, in her place in the middle of the night under the cover of darkness.
What goes around come around, you have heard. That’s what happens here. Jacob pays for his actions in a way by being cheated by the father of the woman he was in love with. He could not swallow because the whole deal with bitter, but he could also not spit it out because his heart was still with Rachael. In the midst of it all, the one who lost dignity, respect, and love was Leah, the older daughter. No one bothered to look into her feelings or fears. No-one bothered to worry about what her thoughts were.
But then that doesn’t end there. Jacob had to work for his sweetheart for another seven more years. Rachael does not bear children. But Leah does.
Leah suffered ridicule in this story. Leah is only an example of several people in the world who suffers such treatment. These experiences are painful and demeaning. They cry out to God and does God hear them? This is where the story takes a different turn. God does hear the cries of the abused and lost.
Israelites suffered under the rule of Pharaoh. God took pity on them and looked upon them with love, which prompted them to be led out of Egypt. Exodus 2:25
Solomon was a great king and the wisest of all in the world. He had a huge responsibility as a king and a man who is guided by the Lord. In spite of the fact that he was a king and had everything he needed, he felt the need for divine care because of the burdens he was facing as a king. No one is exempt from that desire for God’s care. Regardless of our position in society, the love we experience in this world and our maturity level, we are still looking for divine care like Solomon and Leah was looking for. The people of Israel were looking for.
Prophets seek such care from God. If not for a deep and personal love towards Elijah, he would not have had anything to eat in the wilderness. “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi.” 1 Kings 17:6
Jezebel was looking for Elijah. There were people who were against him and wanted him dead. Elijah fled the land because he was being hunted after. He was depressed I am sure and afraid. He ran for his life and sought after God’s help. When he says, “O Lord, it’s enough. Take away my life,” it shows his utter desperation and fear of another human being. He fell asleep in his fear and depression. That’s when the angel wakes him up and says, “Get up and eat.” 1 Kings 19:7.
We all want somebody to tell us to get up and eat. We are waiting for that moment when someone who loves us for real will tell us to get up, eat, play, pray, enjoy and celebrate. Our prayer is the same prayer as that of the Psalmist, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.” Psalm 40: 17
I always think of my children as the apple of my eye. If you have children you will be doing the same thing. After all whom we have given birth to is the flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. They share our dreams and hopes. We are deeply and intrinsically connected to our offsprings. Their pain and sorrow, their joy and happiness is ours as well. I believe God feels the same way. It is that what prompts God to care for us. We are God’s beloved for all times. There is not a time when that is not true. Through the darkest and the lightest moments of our lives, we are still the children of God.
Moses felt that. He says, “God sustained me in the desert land, in a howling wilderness waste, he sustained me, cared for me, and guarded me as the apple of his eye.” Deuteronomy 32:10.
It is from this experience of God Moses was able to invite the people to recognize their experiences of divine care. He did not allow them to forget how God cared for them. He told them, one by one, the journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom with clothes that were not worn out, or sandals that were still fine on their feet. Deuteronomy 29:5
To cast our anxiety on God is not easy. Because God is not present to us physically in the way we want Him to be. Even though Peter is trying to make us understand this principle by saying, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you,” we are unable to believe in such power in and around us. We, as human beings, want to see that God as tangible, present and near us, like those who love us here on earth.
In the story of Rachel and Leah, we find God working with Leah by opening her womb in the midst of her humiliation. While Rachael could not initially bear children, Leah does. In those days having children were considered a blessing from the Lord and not to have children a curse. Leah prayed with fervor and pleaded with God without ceasing. God blessed her with a tangible presence of Himself in giving her children.
Divine care is intertwined with human care. When we care for others, we care for ourselves. So caring for others is not meant to secretly secure care for oneself. It is an act of love done without expecting a reward. In Sanscrit there is a word called, Nishkam Karma (sanskrit IAST : niṣkāmakarma), It means a self-less or desireless action. It is an action performed without any other expectation other than the good of the person it is directed to. It is called the yogic path to liberation.
In the stories of the liberation of the people of Israel, this is what we find. When the pharaoh asked the midwives of the Israelite women to kill the boys born to the Jewish men, they secretly refused to do it. Simply because it was unethical, cruel and wrong. It was not for any other reason other than knowing the power of God in the midst of it all. They let the boys live.
Moses survived the massacre because someone else other than his mother cared for him. The princess of Egypt was his savior. Doing the right thing is true devotion whether we define it that way or not.
God cares even when humans don’t. We saw that when the ravens took care of Elijah. When Daniel was saved out of the mouth of the Lion. When three young men were saved in the middle of the fire in the book of Daniel.
We are all in need of someone to help us get through rejection and abuse. Leah was treated poorly by her own father. But at the time that is how the world worked. That is not an excuse for anyone at any time not to respect another person. But God did not remain silent through it all. He showed who is in charge when the blessing was bestowed on her after opening her womb.
Experiencing God’s love and care is what transforms us in the end.
© 2019 Fr. Jos Tharakan