Scripture: Lectionary 380. Genesis 22:1-19. Psalm 115: 1-2,3-4,5-6,8-9. Matthew 9: 1-8:
Abraham’s total trust in God leads him to believe that his son must be sacrificed. This is said to be a “test”, but it is more heart wrenching than that because all of Abraham’s hopes are seen in Isaac his and Sarah’s son in whom the future of the Israelites is promised. What a perplexing problem. We are led to skip over the human dimension of this “test” and resolve it by only seeing the transcendent or theological point of view. This may help those who have no sons or daughters, but is even a similar test for those who do and lose a son or daughter unexpectedly. Would a God who is all loving, kind, and merciful, ask such a sacrifice from a father? From a mother?
From personal sharing from a friend of mine who lost his son who was hiking or riding a cycle up Mount Olympus on his twenty-first birthday and somehow was suddenly taken from his vibrant and brilliant life. The friend did not find any consolation in this passage from Genesis though he is a man of faith, integrity, and love. He searched for an answer to his loss and challenged anyone to really make sense out of the passage for him. They could not no matter how intelligent and faith filled in the word of God. This passage simply could not make sense to what happened to him in the loss of his beloved son who shared the same interests and skills as his father.
We cannot try to psychologize the event given in Genesis nor in the loss anyone suffers of a dear son or daughter. Christians may think that this can be compared to Jesus and his union with his Father’s will who permitted him to suffer and die on a Cross. Jesus was doing this for the redemption of humankind. His was a free will choice not an accident nor a “test.” A theological response is not the answer to what the parent suffers on earth in their loss.
Fr. Eugene Maly, one of the early commentators on this passage, offered this thought: “Paradoxically there is demanded of Abraham’s faith that surrender of that faith’s only basis, since it is through Isaac the promise must be fulfilled. The absolute gratuity of the divine choice and man’s acceptance of that gratuitousness are at the basis of this moving story.”
The climactic point of Abraham’s call is reached in what is called in Hebrew “the binding of Isaac” (Akedah). It is an ultimate trial of faith in the Father of faith. Both Abraham’s intention to sacrifice his son and God’s intervention are bound together in this paradoxical situation. Hebrew sages imagine the following dialogue between God and Abraham:
“Take your son.” / “I have two sons.”
“Your only son.” / “Each is an only son to his mother.”
“Whom you love.” / “ I love them both.”
Finally God is explicit: “Isaac” (BT Sanh. 89b) “ Taken form Etz Hayim p. 118.
There is no adequate answer to this harrowing “test.” We stand and pray in fear hoping this will never be asked of us. Amen.
Copyright 2013 Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.