The authors of the Bible often warn us that not
everything done in the name of God is something He wants. The prophets whom
God places in our midst are supposed to point out that distinction.
No passage of Scripture teaches this better
than Sunday's well-known and disturbing narrative from Genesis
How can God command people to kill their
children? It goes a against everything Scripture tells us about a loving
God. Why would Abraham willingly carry out such an absurd command? And even
if Yahweh knows Isaac's "execution" will be stopped at the last
second, the passage still paints a picture of an unacceptable, sadistic God.
The first step in understanding this reading is
to know when, where, by and for whom it was written. This story was composed
in the eighth century before Christ, in the northern part of the Holy Land,
where, due to pagan fertility influence, even some Jews sacrificed their
children. The prophetic author is directing this narrative to those Jews who
believe Yahweh demands such sacrifices.
Though prophets had constantly condemned these
barbaric practices, those who disagreed with them argued that Jews who
refused to kill their children were less dedicated to Yahweh than those who
did. (It's an argument similar to that which proponents of the death penalty
employ against someone who doesn't want the murderer of a loved one or
family member executed: "You must not have loved that person very much
if you don't want his or her killer killed.")
The author constructs the Isaac story in such a
way that no one can question Abraham's commitment to Yahweh. If God had
demanded such an action, Abraham would have carried it out. Yet, the
prophetic writer believes that those whose faith is actually rooted in their
relationship with God will eventually rid their formal religion of the pagan
elements which infiltrate all religions. If something in our religion hurts
people, it can't be from God.
That's why the second reading (Romans 8:
31b-34) fits so well into this context. Paul encourages his readers to give
themselves over to God as He really is, not as they, at times, falsely
conceive of Him.
If God is at the center of our lives, of what
are we afraid? "If God is for us," Paul asks, "who can be
against us?" The answer is, "No one!"
As long as we're both trying to do what God
wants us to do, and we recognize how the risen Jesus is continually
interceding for us, we have nothing to worry about, no matter our
opposition. The extraneous elements which have crept into the practice of
our faith should cause us no problems.
Mark tells us that even before Jesus' death and
resurrection, His immediate disciples were able to glimpse the force He was
becoming in their lives (Mark 9:2-10). On certain occasions they experienced
Him "transfigured," recognizing how different He was from other
Jesus was actually the fulfillment of all the
dreams the authors of Scripture had planted in their hearts. No one ever
surfaced and focused those aspirations better than this carpenter from
Nazareth. Yet, it was only when they made Jesus the center of their lives
that they were able to achieve this insight into His personality and
Our sacred authors give us no other choice.
According to them, the only way to discover what God really wants us to do
in life is to surface those God-sent individuals in our midst who
consistently cut through the demands and practices of our culture, and tell
us what God actually expects of us.
These are people whose lives are completely
centered in God. If we don't listen to them, 2,700 years from now someone
will compose a narrative describing how we "sacrificed" our