Ax + Sword: Lenten Commentary 2018
Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18
There is theme of covenants in sacred scripture. These are the ‘big’ moments in which God makes a promise, a commitment, to be with the people God has chosen as God’s own. We don’t talk a lot about covenants or use that word much in our every day language. We use words like contract or pledge or agreement. Yet, none of these words match the language and seriousness of the covenantal nature of God.
[Last week I wrote to you about the covenant God made with all of creation after the great flood. This is one of the first covenants recorded in scripture and points to the goodness and blessing contained in our world. This week the covenant we can reflect on is the one made between God and Abraham.]
I’ll admit right away, I’m not very comfortable with the language used in this story. God asks Abraham to take his (and Sarah’s) son Isaac to offer him up as a holocaust. Holocaust is another word we don’t use much in our everyday language, signifying a sacrifice consumed by fire or a burnt offering. Usually we think of it in reference to The Holocaust, which should never be forgotten lest we repeat the horrors of modern history. God tells Abraham to kill his son and offer him as a sacrifice. Abraham doesn’t question God, Isaac goes along without knowing the deal God made with Abraham until the moment Isaac is about to be murdered. God’s messenger stops Abraham at that moment of death and declares that God is aware of Abraham’s devotion.
This is a serious story considering the violence of our world. I worry about how mean people can be to each other – especially my own inclination to irritability at times. I am anxious about safety and security, recognizing there is literally no place safe left in our world. Is God condoning the use of violence, murder, destruction just to prove our love for God? I hope not. This isn’t the God I believe in.
Sometimes I think God is painting a picture of humanity to show us how foolish we really are. God is a God of life, not death. Somehow as we step back from the ancient story, we see reflected the story of God’s son – Jesus, who was not spared by the violence of our world. All too often Jesus is killed, every single day, in our thoughts and in our words. God continually sends forth angels to stop us, but our ears are closed to their voices and our hearts are hardened nearly to the point of death. We think we can escape the cycle of violence with more violence, and yet we are always proven wrong.
What then can we do to stop this cycle of destruction? The Catholic Church offers us a solution in the story of the Transfiguration. This is painted on the ceiling of St. Boniface Church (stop by and take a look anytime), modeled after a renaissance painting. In this particular story Jesus goes off to a high mountain with some of his disciples and suddenly his clothing becomes dazzling white, a conversation breaks out between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and the voice of God speaks saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mark 9:7b)
Maybe the violence of our world can end. Maybe it only takes the tools of communication, of conversation, between all the voices that care to share in a way out of this cycle of pain. We live in a world that can instantly translate almost any language in order to share ideas or to do business or to travel, yet we haven’t figured out how to translate the language of love and peace.
I am convinced that we need to do a better job speaking and working with one another. This can only be achieved if we are willing to lay aside our differences and find common ground. It’s on this common ground that our lives can be lifted up to high points where what we thought was going to end in destruction will actually end in change. The covenant made with Abraham is one of blessings and abundance. We cannot run out of, or run away from, the love God has for us, for all nations of the earth.
Our sacrifice is a change of heart. We do not need to live as if we are lacking anything or as if we will die, but rather, let us live knowing our lives are full of blessings and already contain the light of truth and justice. That just might be the motivation we need to stop hurting others and begin living the resurrected life now. Lord Jesus, intercede for us!
Fr. Ross Miceli, M.Div., S.T.B., is pastor of St. Boniface Parish in Kersey and Campus Minister at Elk County Catholic in St. Marys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or comments.