July 2, 2017, 4th Sunday after Pentecost YR A The Rev. Anne Abdy Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
“. . . for now I know that you fear God . . .” (Gen. 22:12)
You cannot get any better than the stories of Abraham.
Can you imagine the fireworks that took place when Isaac came running into camp after being away from his mother for about six days. He whispers into her ear, “Dad almost killed me!” I can hear Sarah confronting Abraham at the edge of the camp standing broad shouldered and with her arms crossed over her chest and her feet firmly planted in the sand.
“You did what! With what! And to what!”
Shocked, and before Abraham could explain, out spills, “You took our only son on a three day road-trip, climbed a mountain, built an altar, and about killed him as the sacrifice!”
Wagging her finger at him she says, “No sir, no, no, no! No, you’re not sleeping in this camp tonight! I don’t care what you say!” She turns around leaving him and his servants staring dumbfounded at her retreating body.
I would not want to be the family therapist assigned to this case. Can you imagine that meeting with each person sitting in their own chair and not all cozy on the couch wishing they were not there!
Isaac is still fuming at dad for wanting to kill him and thinking, “My own father is a maniac!” Sarah has not talked to Abraham in days and is sitting there with her blood boiling thinking, “How foolish of him to take my only son, our heir. His heir! What in the world was he thinking? Oh, he wasn’t thinking!”
And then there’s poor Abraham who is quite put out when all he did was follow God’s orders. He’s playing defense justifying his thinking by saying to himself, “I just followed what God told me to do!” There are so many layers to this story.
Clearly Sarah is a very strong willed and powerful woman. I say this because the last two weeks of Old Testament readings have all focused on her.
First, she mocked God by laughing when told she was to bear a child. A pretty bold response, I think. Then last week, filled with jealously because she saw the two children playing, she approached Abraham saying: “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” (Gen. 21:10)
And then to have God confirm and affirm Sarah by telling Abraham to banish Ishmael and Hager from the camp.
Now this week, who knows if Abraham even told Sarah what he was up to especially since God was the one who told him to do it. Is this a story of an abusive God, a misguided Abraham, religious violence at its worst? Or is it a story of faith and obedience? It could be all of the above, but I like to think that Abraham is being tested.
In verse one we read: “After these things God tested Abraham” (22:1). And what do “these things” include? God’s call to Abraham to go to the land of Egypt which he has never seen.
He disguises Sarah as his sister on the account of her beauty fearing that pharaoh may want to take her hand in marriage. In plain sight, he lies (Gen 12:1). Next, God’s promise to Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation but it is only after the long years of Sarah’s barrenness. He caves and sleeps with Hagar. Abraham has failed twice.
Another obvious layer to this story is the theme of trust. Abraham trusts that God will provide and he puts all his faith into knowing that God has another plan. His only response to God is “Here I am.”
There is no objection. And then he is silent other than to tell his servants to stay with the donkey, and he responds to Isaac with the same words. I imagine he goes about his business in preparation for the journey knowing that his story is bookended by his past history—Ishmael and his future legacy—Isaac. You can tell that he is still struggling with the idea of sacrificing Isaac because he tells his servants “the boy and I will go over there” and then places the woodpile “on his son Isaac.” He is attempting to create distance so he can do the unthinkable.
Then there’s Isaac who at first probably thought this was going to be a great adventure. A bonding moment with dad in the wilderness. He doesn’t say much but is probably confused because there is no sacrificial lamb. He only speaks up to ask about it and is told, “God will provide.”
Somewhere along that long journey in silence as the two walk side by side, Abraham shifted to trusting God’s plan because as soon as he responds to Isaac with the words “God will provide”, Isaac takes on that trust. He does not question further. He does not object. It is as if Isaac is seeing God’s plan through the faith of his father.
The most interesting character in this story is God. God’s role raises a number of questions for me. Was it always God’s intention, as the omnipresent God we know, to have Abraham stretch out his arm with knife in hand in preparation to slit Isaac’s throat, and go only thus far? Did God intend all along to have Abraham “just present” Isaac as the sacrifice? I think so. Why? God saw that the sacrifice was completed in Abraham’s mind because it would only have taken another second to finish the act and he had to intervene.
Or does the character of God raise the question of obedience and trust mixed with a sense of vulnerability? God stops Abraham saying, “See over there. There is a ram. Use it. For now I know you hear God.” (Gen. 22:12)
“Now I know.” Three tiny words that are lost in the reading. At least it was for me till I read and then reread the story again this week.
Was this God feeling vulnerable? Did God doubt that Abraham could pass this third test? What would have happened if Abraham objected at the onset? How would the promised great nation come about?
These words, “Now I know”, suggest that there was a passing of “new knowledge” between the two. God learned something new. He learned that Abraham gets it. God now knows that he can trust Abraham just as Abraham knows he can trust God.
I don’t know which of the two scenarios is correct: The presentation of a sacrificial Isaac or the new knowledge gained? But what I do know is that God gives back to Abraham Isaac’s life just as Jesus brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life in Body and Blood of Jesus Christ as we read in the Eucharistic Prayer B.
Isaac was offered up for sacrifice by his father; whereas Jesus was both the offering and the sacrifice given by his Father for us. And because of that one reason, this story relates today.
But there are other reasons too.
- God wants his people to trust him. Abraham trusted and eventually he was given an heir. And it is from this heir from which Jesus hails.
- God calls us into obedience when we take on more responsibilities, make difficult decisions, or to change our ways. These test make you feel very lonely. No matter how lonely you may feel when you have a difficult decision to make, you are not alone because you know Abraham was alone with his decision too.
- And sometimes, we have to step out and obey God, all by ourselves, without our friends and family because only we can do what needs to be done. Abraham had to force himself to do something no one would have allowed him to do if anyone else had known about it!
Jack Lane writing about the significance of this story said it best.
“What, then, did Abraham’s sacrifice of his and Sarah’s only-begotten son Isaac, on a deserted mountaintop dozens of centuries ago, have to do with us today, in the [21st] century? What significance did a pile of rocks, and an old man, and a knife, have in the fulfillment of God’s plan in each of our lives?
Just about everything!”