NOT COMING TO THE RESCUE (Gen 22:1-18): 08 March 2009 (Second Sunday of Lent)
Sorry for saying this, but what Abraham went through wasn’t exactly cool. For decades he and his wife Sarah waited for you to give them a son. Finally, when Abraham was 100 years old (!), you gave Isaac to them. But then after they raised their son and loved him, what did you decide one day? You decided to put Abraham to this test; you asked him to give Isaac up by himself sacrificing his son on the mountain. You knew how tough this was because when you made your request, you referred to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son, whom (he) loves.” Talk about rubbing it in.
Now, I know the name “Isaac” literally means “he will laugh,” but this request was no laughing matter. Just imagine what Abraham must have been thinking as he left Sarah that morning–she probably still sleeping and he knowing fully well that he would have a lot of (useless) explaining to do upon his return alone. Imagine what he must have been feeling as he walked with his son to the mountain, his only son turning to him to ask why they had only wood but no sheep or goat for the sacrifice. It must have been the longest walk of his life.
I can’t help but think of similarly long walks in my life when I was about to give up something that I really wanted or felt I really needed. There have been many moments in my life when I felt I was asked to let go: There have been times when I had to make the decision to walk away voluntarily–when it made sense to do so or I felt you were asking me to do so. But I also remember the instances when I didn’t have too much of a choice–when things weren’t up to me and lay beyond my control, and all I was being asked to do was to accept my loss and simply to come to terms with it. Both haven’t been easy, and both have taken time.
But thank you, God, for happy endings. Thank you for coming to Abraham’s rescue, for sending your angel at the last minute to stop what would have been a terrible, heart-breaking sacrifice. If you hadn’t done that, Abraham would have been changed–and perhaps broken–forever.
But just as importantly, the way I look at you would have changed too. Thankfully, you’re not the kind of God who seriously orders us to kill what and whom we love. That’s not the kind of tests that you design and put us through. I know that sometimes it looks and feels that way, but what matters to you is not that we follow your orders to make big sacrifices because you issue no such orders. You value our freedom too much, so what you desire is that we ourselves, using our freedom, make our own decision about what to give up and give back to you. And once we’ve made our decision, you respect it and usually don’t come to the rescue.
Of course what all this really tells me about you, what it truly reveals about the kind of God that you are has to do with the fact that what you spared Abraham from doing to his own son, you did not for yourself: While you came to his rescue and prevented him from sacrificing his only and beloved son, you gave up your own–for the sake of the rest of us who don’t deserve to be called your children. That shows us the kind of Father you are to all of us.
This Lent I’d like to examine my life and ask myself the obvious question: “Is there anything that you may be asking me to give up and give back to you?” I’m not just talking about meat or texting or Internet surfing–none of those innocuous sacrifices that, if for nothing else, heighten our anticipation of Easter Sunday, when we can finally–and gloriously!–break our fasts. I’m talking about the Isaac’s in my life–things and persons I hold dear, too dear, so dear that for some reason, they get inyour way and keep me from you.
Who and what then are my Isaac’s? Could you by any chance be asking me to sacrifice them this Lent at your altar, to give them up and to give them back to you?
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(image: Caravaggio’s “Sacrifice of isaac”)