Genesis 22:1-14 God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
Reflection If God really is love, shouldn’t God be telling Abraham to wrap his precious son in cotton, put him in a closet so no harm would come to him? Why is the Bible full of so many ‘hard stories?’“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away…. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away…(Matt 5.30-31) Not to mention Jesus telling at least three people to sell everything they own and follow him. These are hard words. They are particularly ‘hard’ if we read them literally.
How do we hear these hard stories? As Cynthia Bourgeault points out, if we hear the stories literally with our small selves, with our ego selves, our immediate response is, “No way.” (Wisdom Jesus, 51) From the perspective of our small selves, we cling to what we have. We hold onto what is literally in our hands. There is no way we would agree to pluck out our right eye, chop off our right hand, sell all of our possessions or sacrifice our child. But the ‘hard teaching’ stories are not literal instructions intended to dictate external actions.
These ‘hard teaching’ stories are about inner transformation. To ‘hear’ the deeper level of meaning intended by these legends we must learn to listen with our hearts. Listening with our hearts we realize we do not want to cling to anything that stands between us and God. Listening with our hearts we realize that whatever stands between us and God are our idols… our Isaacs.
When all reasonable hope of having a child was long gone (he was 100 years old after all) Abraham received the unspeakably precious gift of a son. Naturallly, Abraham loved Isaac. But he had to grow into the place where he could give back to God what was God’s in the first place. Abraham had to realize that all that he had was gift and to cling to anything, even and especially that which was most precious, would seperate him from God. And so in the legend, Abraham did what was unthinkable. He handed his child over to God. And God returned Isaac to Abraham, unscathed.
The question before us is, what are our Isaacs? What are our idols? Could our idol be our family? our partner? our career? our ministry? our money? There is nothing wrong with loving our family or our partner. There is nothing wrong with having a career, pursuing our vocation or earning money. There is nothing wrong with loving our eyes or hands or our child. AND - anything good can become an idol. Which I believe is the point of the legend of Abraham and Isaac. What is your Isaac?
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