Date: Sunday, February 25, 2018
We are troubled by our first reading from the Book of Genesis: the testing of Abraham or the binding of Isaac. “Horrified” might be a better word to describe our reaction to hearing God asking Abraham to make “your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love” a holocaust, an offering. God’s intention is to test the devotion of Abraham. An angel of God is ready to intervene at the crucial moment and a ram, caught in a thicket, is provided as a holocaust in place of Isaac. We may have here in these verses: “Do not lay your hand on the boy…Do not do the least thing to him” the pronouncement of a prohibition against human child sacrifice, a gruesome practice in some ancient societies. It will become part of Jewish Law in the Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Although this ancient text still troubles us even with commentary and explanation, we may be able to commiserate with the testing of Abraham. What is the most important thing in life to us? What would we do if God asked us to sacrifice that important thing or if we found that precious thing suddenly snatched from us? Parents do sometimes experience the death of a beloved son or daughter. It is difficult to imagine anything more devastating. What we would do if we were to experience a truly devastating loss -- whether of a job or health or the death of a loved one. Will our faith sustain us in times like that? Will we lose our faith? Almost all of us will experience a serious loss at some point in our lives, so this is hardly an academic question. It is fundamental.
Our Gospel according to St. Mark recalls the transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up the mountain where his clothes become dazzling white and Jesus enters into conversation with Elijah and Moses. Peter wishes to pitch three tents for Jesus and the two heavenly guests. A cloud overshadows them. They hear God’s voice: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Coming down Jesus charges his disciples not to tell anyone of what they have seen “except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of God’s glory shining in and through Jesus to sustain them on the way to the cross.
The testing of Abraham and the binding of Isaac happened on Mt. Moriah. City of Jerusalem! Today it is the location of the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic Shrine and the remaining Wall of the Jewish Temple. It is also near where Jesus was crucified on Mt Calvary. It is a place of worship (and tears) of three religions or faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abraham, our father in faith, is a common source of unity but sadly there is so much that divides.