Abraham and the bound sacrifice of Isaac

821isaacOur first reading from Genesis 22 is often regarded as one of the finest examples of a short story in all or Western literature. In 19 short verses, the reader is taken on a terrible and shocking journey along with Abraham and Isaac – your only son, the son that you love – for three days until they reach the mountain of Moriah (which 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us would become the temple mount in Jerusalem). Although the reader knows that this is a test for Abraham, he is not in on that little secret; so we can only wonder how he endured these three days while he would have been beside himself in grief as he walked along with Isaac, prepared camps, ate meals together and shared stories around a camp-fire – and yet pretended that nothing was amiss in this horrible pilgrimage.

 The lectionary reading skips over some of the details, so it is well worth reading the full passage to see all the details – and especially the poignant exchange between Isaac – now carrying the wood that would be used to burn the sacrifice and his father, as in innocence Isaac looks up at his father and asks the powerful question: ‘here is the flint/fire and the wood – but where is the lamb of sacrifice?’ With the faith and obedient trust that has become Abraham’s greatest mark and honour, he answers with powerful prophetic insight: ‘The Lord himself, will provide the lamb – my son.’ We are left to wonder whether ‘the son’ is meant to be ironic – a hint from Abraham to Isaac of the darker purposes that he is being forced to embark upon. When they reach the summit of the mountain, there Abraham binds his son – an act that provides the title for this sacrifice – the Akedah of Isaac (or in Hebrew, Akeidat Yitzchak). We are not told how old Isaac is at this point – at the end of Genesis 21 we are simply told that ‘a long time passed’ so Isaac could be a young boy (yet old enough to carry a pile of branches), or a young man. Whatever his age, it seems that Isaac, who now knows that he is to be the lamb of sacrifice, allows himself to be bound and so offered to the Lord. He also seems to be the stronger one in the pair – since he is the one assigned to carry the wood for the fire of sacrifice.

It is only after Isaac, now bound, and placed upon the newly constructed altar, and as Abraham – presumably racked in grief and tears – reaches out with the knife to lunge it into the neck of his beloved son. As he begins to bring the knife down, it is then that the angel of the Lord intervenes to prevent this heinous crime of human sacrifice from taking place. Then we are informed that a short distance away, a ram is caught up in the bushes, and so is available to take the place of Isaac and be sacrificed. Note it is a ram – not the lamb that Abraham prophesied. After this passage, any careful reader of scripture should be looking for this lamb – when will God come through and answer this promise? When will God finally provide the lamb of sacrifice?

Play MP3

Recorded at St Columbkille’s 9am – with the assistance of Daniel, a whole lot of rope and a huge knife from the presbytery kitchen.
The recording from the Vigil Mass is also available (where Mark assisted me): https://www.rmhealey.com/

Lent, Sunday 2, Year B.
Genesis 22:1-19; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10

From the Pastor’s PC – Second Sunday of Lent

Last Sunday we journeyed with Jesus into the wilderness as he underwent a time of testing. This week we journey with Abraham and his son Isaac into another wilderness. The 19 verses of this story are acknowledged as an example of one of the greatest short stories ever told. In the Jewish tradition, this rich story (Genesis 22:1-19) is one of the most commented on by the Rabbis. Other versions of the story circulated as well as laments that were sung by Isaac who had come so close to death. The Rabbis call it The Aqedah, which refers to the binding of Isaac – a verb that only occurs here in the whole of the Old Testament. We will see that there are other interesting words in the passage and powerful pointers to the person and offering of Jesus as the Lamb of God.

Last week I shared something of the outline of my story – but as interesting as that may (or may not) be, today I want to share about my faith. My family is Catholic and my parents made Sunday Mass and daily prayer – including the rosary – essential aspects of our ordinary life. As small children we attended Mass in Bega, but then a new priest arrived in the small village north of where our farm was, and he visited to let us know that we actually lived in his parish of Cobargo. Apparently that sort of thing mattered in those days. So we stopped going to Mass in Bega and started going faithfully to Mass in St Mary’s, Cobargo.

Although the music and preaching in Bega were not amazing, they were far from that in Cobargo! But the community were friendly and welcoming and helped to make up for the other deficiencies. Although the priest there took my brothers and I for religious instruction, this meant I only knew more things about my faith and what Catholics believed – rather than knowing the Lord himself. So I was able to argue about various issues with other students at Bega High School – but little more.

It was not until I was in Year 10 that something rather beautiful actually happened. A youth group had started in Bega, and my older brother went along. Bizarrely, he came back from the weekend retreat different. I was the youngest in the family: my two sisters came first, and then my two brothers. Steve was two years older than me, and I idolised him. He was not only intelligent, but he was also sporty – something that clearly I never was. Unfortunately he had treated me somewhat badly – but all that changed when he returned from that Antioch weekend. He asked me to forgive him. Amazing. I knew that whatever had happened to him, I wanted for myself. I knew that I had to go on this weekend camp as well – but unfortunately I had to wait another eighteen months before I could get the chance. But that story next week…

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Please continue to wear your name tags to Mass. I can’t tell you how much it helps me. Anything that helps to remove that certain awkwardness is a great thing. Thank you to so many of you who have taken the time to introduce yourselves to me. But please, I do ask you to continue to remind me what your name is – at least five times! And tell me something else about you to help me hang your name on. And keep on wearing the name tags – and introducing yourself to me and those around you.

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