This weekend the first reading is a story from the life of Abraham that for most parents would be very difficult to understand in light of our view of God as a loving Father. It’s the story of Abraham offering Isaac to God as a burnt offering … and God stepping in at the last possible moment, to rescue the boy and provide an alternative.
What kind of God, we ask ourselves, would demand that a father kill his only son as a human sacrifice? And what kind of father would agree to it? In point of fact, the human race was reconciled to God through the suffering and death of His only son, who willingly offered Himself up for our sakes. And in that sense, this scenario is a prefigurement of the incarnation, Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ (which is why this reading is paired with the Gospel account of the Transfiguration, in which Christ’s divine nature is revealed to His disciples).
It is in light of this revelation that we can most fully appreciate God’s response to Abraham:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”
The concept of “offering up” is one that we hear frequently during the season of Lent, the notion that giving up the good things and enduring without complaint the bad, can somehow be of lasting spiritual benefit.
We do not always understand why the bad things happen: the sudden loss of a loved one, a financial setback, a professional disappointment, or the painful consequences of a bad choice (whether our own or someone else’s). The icky feelings these realities produce — anger, retribution, envy, despair, depression, and the like — often multiply the burden.
It is this secondary burden of the passions that the “offering” mitigates. Grieving the loss will undoubtedly take time (and is, after all, not a sin but a natural response). When we endure from a position of trust … rather than resistance.
Sometimes there is no getting around the pain … the only way is through it, trusting God to work through even the most difficult circumstances of our lives to create something beautiful.
Photo Credit: Peter Bentley
Just as an aside, my younger son is named Isaac (I love the name as it means “one who laughs”) and this reading is always understandably very traumatic for him. He sat in Church this morning with his hands over his ears until it was done!