LENTEN JOURNEY – WEEK 2
“Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven.” (Genesis 22:16-17a)
The burnt offering of a ram was presented to God instead of the sacrifice of Isaac. This covenant God enters into with Abraham reveals the commitment God makes to the Jewish Nation and that we are also called to make: to prefer nothing whatsoever to do the will of God out of love for God.
One week, the abbot of the desert of Scetis requested that all the monks fast for the week.
During that week, some people visited Moses the Ethiopian, and Moses cooked a warm meal for his guests and welcomed them to his cell.
Other monks who were passing by, saw the cooking smoke rising from Moses’ cell, and let the abbot know that he broke the rule. The abbot listened intently and told the monks he would handle it.
So, on Sunday, when all the monks gathered for liturgy, the abbot spoke to Moses saying:
“O Moses, truly you have sacrificed the commandment of people to fulfill the commandment of Christ!” (from CreativeOrthodox.com)
Moses the Ethiopian intuitively sensed that the best sacrifice he could make would be the one that would truly make God sovereign in his life.
We see that same intuitive sense with Abraham, who knows the great sacrifice God is actually asking of him, is to completely trust in God’s guidance and purpose for his life. And if he kept that as his primary focus, then he would truly see a great demonstration of God’s love and power. And indeed, that’s just what happens! God responds to Abraham’s act of faith by entering into a covenant with him, saying, “Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven.” (Gen 22: 16-17a)
We know from later passages in the Bible that the Jewish nation was indeed given the ability to conquer its enemies and to be a blessing to the world by spreading and living the Word of God contained in the Torah, and ultimately birthing the Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God!
Even though that’s a great conclusion to the story, we must still grapple with the question of why would God have asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son in the first place, a son that he had so earnestly prayed, for a long time, to have?
To arrive at an answer to this question, we have to remember that such a request would not have been out of the ordinary in the Ancient Near East. Many of the cultures living near Abraham practiced human sacrifice to their lesser gods. It would have been a religious ritual familiar— though repugnant— to Abraham. That being said, Abraham also would have known that the God he served, had condemned such sacrifices, as a terrible sin. The God Abraham knew was a God of Life, of Justice, of Tender Mercy. And so, it’s safe to say that God never had intended Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in the physical sense. Perhaps God’s motivation was really to see if Abraham would sacrifice the number one place in his heart, that Abraham had reserved for his Son Isaac, to God. Perhaps, making Abraham defer the strength of his will, to God’s will, was a test of Abraham’s character too, and would aid in strengthening it and Abraham’s future resolve to obey God in all things.
We’re told in the story, that once God relents and tells Abraham not to sacrifice his son, Isaac, that a nearby ram is offered as a substitute sacrificial offering in place of Isaac, and that this sacrifice is found acceptable to God. This story is therefore not only significant because of the covenant that God enters into with Abraham and his descendants, but also because it’s a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ himself on the cross who acts as a substitute for the sins of all humanity.
Furthermore, the story highlights for the Christian reader, that while God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his own son, Isaac, God the Father doesn’t spare the life of his own only-begotten Son, Jesus, from dying on the cross for our sins. So great is God’s love for us that he willingly gives up his only Son to death, in order that we might receive atonement for our sins!
This story recounted in Genesis with its application to the life and death of Jesus Christ, therefore, invites us to consider if there’s anything or anyone in our own lives that we deeply love and have difficulty letting go of? Have we become inordinately attached to someone or to something? Is there anything or anyone that we’ve placed as higher importance or priority than our covenanted relationship to God, in our day–to–day living? If so, then we must acknowledge that that person or thing has in effect, become a God for us. We’ve made it or them our ultimate source of happiness and fulfillment. We’ve given it or them power over our behavior and over our judgments. Unfortunately, such an attachment to a person or a thing will never result in lasting peace and happiness and joy because imperfect persons and things will always disappoint.
There is only one living God! We, therefore, need to keep the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as our number one priority in life and seek, through a life of prayer, to surrender ourselves, more and more, to God’s will for us and to seek ways, each day, to make God more known and glorified in our world and in our daily interactions with one another.
The story of Abraham and Isaac, as well as the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration of our Lord to Peter, James, and John, invite us to ask ourselves if we need to see God in a new light. Maybe we see God as a harsh judge ready to quote rules and regulations to us, an uncompromising dictator who demands blind faith, or as a distant figure in the clouds, all too ready and willing to send us to the fires of Hell for the slightest infraction.
Or maybe we see God as someone uninterested in our day–to–day interactions and more like a cosmic force whose natural laws dictate what happens to us.
All of these ways of seeing God are a warped perception of the one True God revealed to us in Sacred Scripture. Indeed, such a god of doom and gloom, of rules and regulations, of disinterested detachment from humanity, is not worth loving nor serving, and that’s probably why some people have no use for God—- because their perception of who God is and what God desires is all messed up.
We need to be evangelizers of the One True God! We need to proclaim the God that Jesus reveals to us as a God of Love and Mercy, a God on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and disenfranchised, a God who is all about reaching out and healing those chained to sin, sickness and disease, a God who removes boundaries between peoples and cultures, a God who never gives up on us but always seeks the best in us. The God Jesus reveals is a God who’s intimately involved and interested in our lives! This is the same God that called out to Abraham! It’s the same God that parted the Red Sea to save the Jews from slavery! It’s the same God who brought back his people from Exile into their promised land! It’s the same God that came down to earth as our Messiah! It’s the same God who took our place —suffered, died, and became the atoning sacrifice for our sins, once and for all! It’s THIS God that is worth sacrificing our entire lives for! It’s THIS God that has the power to save! It’s THIS God who has defeated sin and death and gifted us with New, Resurrected Life! It’s THIS God that we serve, now and forever! Amen!
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