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Sarah In The Kitchen


It's a conversational game played by workers in their coffee break. Women in their kitchens play it about men, men in the pub play it about their bosses. People who feel powerless get together to laugh at those in power. Women and other powerless people always have opinions about decisions that are being made. But, usually, the powerful don't ask for their opinions. And anyway, many powerless people feel they haven't the confidence to speak their minds. Not, that is, to the powerful. But when powerless people get together with other powerless people, in the kitchen, the pub or the staff canteen there are plenty of opinions about the leaders' latest decisions and there's a lot of laughter at the antics of the powerful. It makes the powerless feel powerful and sometimes it's all they feel they can do.

The Bible suggests that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, had no one to laugh with in her kitchen when she felt powerless. But she had plenty tolaugh at. In those days, things were much the same. The men were in charge. They were the ones who knew whatwhat God had said. And a lot of it seemed pretty funny. The biggest joke of all and God, said Abraham, kept on promising it was that childless old Abraham was going to start a family a great nation. Sarah knew she couldn't be part of this. She was old and sterile. So she persuaded Abraham to have a son with Hagar, her Egyptian maid. But God was not satisfied. He came back to Abraham, now very long in the tooth, and told him, "You are going to father a child with Sarah." Still in the background, Sarah stood and listened andlaughed softly to herself.


So God stopped talking about Abraham's faith and started to talk about Sarah's laughter. Why did Sarah laugh? God asked. Sarah had to come out of the background and speak for herself. As the future mother of a great nation Sarah was enabled to develop the confidence to know when her attitudes made a difference. Once Sarah was really involved, there seemed to be no further problem about the promise. Within a year, the couple's first son was born and they called him Isaac. The name means ‘laughter’.

Now as then, many women and men feel powerless in their sphere of life. In the face of the enormous problems faced by the world as a whole we may all feel that our only weapon is ridicule, that all we can do is to poke fun at the powerful. The story of Sarah suggests that when powerless people receive the gift of courage and come out of the background and speak for themselves, things can change at home and in the wider world. Like Sarah, we can create new life. We can work with and change the world and that brings joy - a different sort of laughter.


* I wrote and broadcast this on BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought in a series on Women in the Bible.

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