March 4, 2012 - Second Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

Abraham loved God so much that he was willing to give his most precious, the son that he loved, to the Lord.

I could say that, but it is a very dangerous thing to say. So long as no one is taking me seriously, so long as religion is nothing more than a game we play, saying words that mean nothing at all, all will be fine, but if someone makes the dreadful mistake of actually acting on the ideas contained in Scripture, I am in trouble. I could preach about how wonderful it is that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and how we need to be willing to give everything to God, and then someone will go home and sacrifice their children. We all would consider them a monster, but they could say, and rightly so, “I wanted to give God everything.”

That is not what happened in the reading today. If someone ever tells you that there is any virtue in killing your children as a human sacrifice because you love God so very much, do not believe them. Our religion is not composed of a lot of stupidity said in solemn language. So let us begin with the antidote to complex stupidity: simple truths. It is wrong to kill innocent people. God does not want human sacrifices. If you think that God is asking you to kill someone to please him, stop and get medical care.

So what was going on in that reading? Abraham knew that God was going to stop him. That story is about faith. Abraham had a promise from God: Isaac will give you grandchildren. Isaac had not yet had any children. So Abraham knew that even if he took Isaac up on the mountain, God would save him. Even if Abraham stabbed Isaac through the heart, God would save him. Even if Abraham killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. Abraham knew, as he walked up the mountain with Isaac, that Isaac would yet have children. He believed the promise. He had no doubt, and, therefore, he had no fear.

The position that Abraham is in with respect to God, is the position that Isaac is in with respect to Abraham. Consider that time period. There was no government. There was no social structure other than the family. Isaac did not go to school. There was no such thing as a book. Isaac learned everything he knew from his father and mother. For all he knew, every father marches their son up a mountain and ties them to a load of wood. What was going through Isaac’s mind? I imagine that he thought that his father was performing a secret ritual, something symbolic. He trusted that his father was not going to kill him. He knew that his father loved him.

This is also Abraham’s position with God. He has seen more of the world, but his relationship with God was like nothing ever seen before. He knew that the Egyptians worshiped statues, but he also knew that those gods were different than his God. How did he make sense of all these messages from God? We do not know. We should not imagine him anachronistically, as if he knew all that we know about Moses and Jesus. That is all the future to him. He only has a voice which speaks to him and makes promises. He had learned to trust these promises completely.

So Isaac goes up the mountain not knowing exactly what will happen on the top but trusting that his father loves him and will not harm him. Abraham goes up the mountain not knowing exactly what will happen on the top but trusting that God would never break his promise to provide children through Isaac. God demanded that Abraham take Isaac up that mountain knowing what would happen at the top. Why did God do this? Perhaps God was showing us ourselves. When Adam took the fruit from Eve and ate it, he was demanding that Jesus be killed. Every time we sin, we demand that God send Jesus to die for our sins.

Usually the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is considered as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. Isaac carried the wood on his back; Jesus carried the Cross on his. Isaac was a beloved son; Jesus was the Beloved Son. Abraham said to Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice; Jesus was the sacrifice that God provided. And remember that Jesus was, according to the flesh, a descendant of Isaac. His DNA was taken, across 2000 years, from Isaac, so Jesus is, in a sense present, in Isaac.

However, as the Church shows us today by this choice of readings, that story also foreshadows the Transfiguration. In the Gospel today, Jesus climbs a mountain with Peter, James, and John. On the top of each mountain, a glorification occurs. The voice speaks from heaven. To Abraham the voice said, “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants like the stars of the sky and the sands on the seashore.” Abraham goes up the mountain as just another man, but comes down the mountain as our father in faith.

To Jesus, or rather, to his disciples, the voice said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” As great as Abraham is, and as great as the promise that was made to him was, this is a greater statement signifying that Jesus is greater than Abraham. God made a promise to Abraham, but about Jesus he merely stated a fact and gave a command. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Or rather, since he was speaking to the disciples, he does make a promise. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” is a promise. Abraham may have wanted many descendents, but we wanted a savior. By those words God gave us what was his. “This is mine”, he begins. Then he says, “now he is yours to listen to.” This statement contains the mystery of the Gospels: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.”

When Abraham took his son up that mountain, he was declaring himself to be for God 100%. He was a servant of God. He was devoted. He trusted God and believed his promises. God said, “March your son up a mountain” so Abraham got up early the next morning and set out. Likewise, when God sent his Son into the world, he was declaring himself to be for us 100%. Brothers and sisters, if God is for us, who can be against us? Since he did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all, will he not give us everything else along with him?