Hagar - Sara - Abraham

Eine Predigt von Sylvia Bukowski

Sylvia Bukowski lebt und arbeitet für einige Wochen in Nes Ammim. Unter ihren Eindrücken auf der "Westbank" entstand folgende Predigt zu Genesis 16:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

Within this weeks parasha there is the story of a most painful „threesome“ a „Dreiecksverhältnis“ as we say in German. It involves the honorable Patriarch Abraham and his wife, as well as their servant Hagar.
I want to give this story a closer look because like so many other biblical stories it shows that the Bible is indeed a book full of life:  It mirrors life as it is with all its ups and downs, its greatness and its calamities. And containing Gods word the Bible also is the source of a new life, a life full of hope and joy.
In this story I will focus on Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Abraham and Sara. Hagar has been seen as standing for the fate of many dependent and oppressed women, but she also plays a vital role for Palestinian Christians and in another way also for Muslims.
At the very start we are faced with an impatient, almost desperate Sara. She has Gods promise of a son, but she is getting older and older and still there is no pregnancy. Maybe by now she starts to doubt God, and who could blame her! Maybe she is afraid, that Abraham does so too, and might leave her. According to Jewish law he could after 10 years of childlessness. And until today many old men take a new young wife to prove their virility (and to escape from their own age?). 
So, Sara, sister of our doubts and fears, has many reasons to decide to take things into her own hands. She proposes to Abraham to beget a child with Hagar, which, according to law, they could later consider their own, similar to how couples in our days use a surrogate mother, a leihmutter.
Now how does Abraham react? Does he still trust Gods promise and therefore denies Saras proposal? Does he try to comfort her in her worries and encourage her to stay patient waiting for Gods action? No, what we hear is: Abraham listened to the voice of Sara. That’s all. Just like Adam took the apple from Eve without any protest. Quite a sobering image of the great partriarch, the model of faith!
One of my jewish friends always jokes about this shameful passivity of Abraham taking it as proof that women in Judaism are not at all underprivileged, but are the real bosses (at home). And not only in Judaism it is quite common, that even famous men are in many ways dependent on their wives. Yet that doesn`t solve the gender problem at all, since the women hardly ever earn a public reputation for their support.
In any case, Hagar is completely left out in the decision. As a foreign housemaid she has to submit to everything her bosses demand, even forcing her to have sex. A tragic fate shared by millions of migrant housemaids from poor countries  today. 
So Hagar sleeps with Abraham as required by Sara and indeed gets pregnant very soon. It seems everything is working out just as Sara would have it. But what seemed a clever solution to Saras mind now turns out to be a great pain for her heart. She has to witness the growing pregnant belly in Hagar which she herself had longed for in vain for so long, and she is confronted with the pride of her maid, hurting and humbling her more and more. Even though Sara is still the mistress of the house, her slave in a way is becoming her superior. And Hagar takes every chance to demonstrate this superiority to Sara. Enough reason for a most cruel war between the 2 women. 
Female rivalry, Zickenkrieg as we call it in German, is a very difficult issue for all feminists, because of course we prefer to deplore male beastliness instead of female bitchiness. For a long time at least in my generation we more or less kept silent on the devastating forms of female rivalry, very often not fought out openly but from behind or „under the table“, but all the more painful.
On her part Sara now acts out her pain by bullying Hagar as much as she can, some even read: she tortures her, and in the end she does, what women at least in former generations often, did: she turns to her husband, requesting him to solve her problems with Hagar: You send her away she asks. 
But as before,  Abraham doesn´t want to take any responsibility and leaves everything to Sara. She is your maid. Do what you want. The suffering of Hagar under Saras envy and random actions at last reaches an extent, that Hagar sees no other alternative than to run away. Now both women are losers: Sara loses the child, she so diligently has planned for, and Hagar loses her job and every perspective for the future. And in the end no one in this threesome remains without fault, not even Abraham.
But that´s also one of the reasons why I love the Bible: it always remains very much down to earth, very realistic, and doesn´t glorify even its greatest heroes, pretending they were “superhumans” without any weakness or fault. 
Now as I said, the suffering of Hagar reaches such an extent that she decides to run away. And that’s the point many Palestinian Christians identify themselves with Hagar. They compare their own suffering under Israeli bullying with Hagars experiences under the rule of the chosen couple Abraham and Sara. And like Hagar many Palestinian Christian have seen no other option than to flee from the painful oppression under Israeli occupation and often enough also from the pressure of their muslim neighborhood. A large number of them has emigrated in despair hoping to find a better life somewhere, even under hardest conditions. And for all Palestinian Christians Gods´s reaction to Hagars despair is a great comfort: God speaks to Hagar. And God speaks to them.
In the Bible it is the very first time that God speaks explicitly to a woman. He addresses Hagar in the midst of the desert, to where she has fled. In the shape of an angel he asks Hagar: Where do you come from and where are you going? 
Why does God ask these questions? Doesn`t he know everything, even our hidden thoughts? Yes he does, but as a good Seelsorger, a good pastoral counselor,  God leaves room for us to speak out ourselves, to find our own words for our feelings, in German we say to unburden our souls: uns alles von der Seele reden. And God affirms that he is a God who listens. For this reason Hagar will later call the son she is pregnant with: Ismael: God listens. He has listened to the outcry of the Egyptian maid, just as later on God will listen to the outcries of the hebrew slaves in Egypt. The God of Israel is a God who listens.
That’s why the Palestinian Christians take so much comfort from Hagars story. For them it is a reassurance that God not only listens to his chosen people but also to those that suffer from them as the Palestinians do today. And as you may know, already the fact that someone is listening to your problems and complaints is a great comfort. 
Hagar is allowed to tell her own story to God. She is allowed to complain about the chosen ones who have been ruling over her. And God listens. Even though he also knows about Saras pain that made her act in such cruel ways, he takes Hagars account serious. Furthermore Gods angel  gives Hagar a great promise: Gods promise to be mother of an offspring, countless in number – a promise that sounds in part very similar to the promise given to Abraham.  That means the fugitive Egyptian maid is honored greatly by God, almost as much as Abraham. A fact long forgotten in our Christian Church. And probably not very important in Jewish understanding. Therefore all the more reason for us to consider it seriously today.
Yet what follows is very hard for me to understand. God commands Hagar to return to her mistress and to submit herself under her hands. How does that go along with God, who listens to the desperate cries of the oppressed and is said to be a liberating God? 
Is maybe Yohanna Katanacho right, a Palestinian theologian who claims, God wants Hagar to show love for the enemy the way Jesus is asking from us? Meaning in Hagars case that she should return evil with good and this way overcome it? In other words: Should she follow the rule which the tent of nations in Palestine follows in a most impressive way: to refuse to become an enemy and thus resist the hostility shown from the powerful and violent opponent?
Before following Gods demanding command, Hagar does something which is unique in the whole Bible. She gives God a name, a name of her own choice. She says you are Elroi, A seeing God, a God who sees me.
Maybe it is this strong faith that helps her do as God wants her to: Knowing: God listens to my suffering and sees my misery, With this certainty you can indeed resist being infected by hatred and endure a lot of pain whithout running away from it. And I think we owe the Palestinian Christians who remain in Palestine great respect for their resistant faith and endurance under painful conditions, seeking nonviolent ways to end the occupation which makes them suffer and poisons the soul of the oppressor. 
Now let me conclude with a few remarks on Ismael. He is described  as person, wild as a donkey, being against everyone and everyone being against him....

You may discover a number of our Christian prejudice against arabic people in this description, prejudice that had bloody consequences in our Church History , especially in the crusades. Prejudice that still poison our relationship with Muslims, who consider themselves offspring of Ismael.
Yet in the Bible we hear of Abrahams great love for Ismael, taking him as his firstborn along when God made circumcision the sign of his covenant. And after Abraham has died, it is Ismael and Isaak who bury him in brotherly unity.
I think we should keep this biblical evidence in mind. Not only Isaak is Abrahams beloved son, but also Ismael.  And. It is beyond doubt that Abraham. is the  father of Jews and Muslims, and through Jesus Christ of Christians as well. But I am convinced the hope for a peaceful unity between the 3 Abrahamite religions is much more based on trusting the the merciful God, who listens to the cries of all who suffer and who is the God who sees what we all long for and need. Amen 

Pfarrerin Sylvia Bukowski, Oktober 2013
by Sylvia Bukowski

A Good Shepherd of all mankind (Psalm 23) - An Angel attacs Jacob - Jacob and Esau - Sara-Hagar-Abraham