‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7)
Last week it was Noah’s Ark, and this week the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. Or not so much the sacrifice, but the attempted sacrifice. The Old Testament can certainly challenge our understanding!
On the face of it, this is a horrific story. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham, out of blind faith, almost carries out the order. Only at the last minute does he hold his hand. Is this the sort of thing God does? Well, we would find it hard to say yes.
But then we must look at two stories together.
The Gospel reading tells us of another mountain. And another Son. And this time the Father is God himself. On the first mountain faith is clear, but the will of God is not. On the second mountain the voice of God speaks clearly and his Glory is revealed.
In the first reading Abraham is blessed not because of the action he did not carry out, but because of his utter devotion to God. In the ancient world, even more than today, family was everything. The clan, kith and kin, the succession, this was at the heart of the fabric of society.
Abraham realised that faith in God is greater even than this.
And in the Gospel we hear that the sacrifice is not the sacrifice of an unwilling son, but the gift of God himself, in the Son. Just as in the Old Testament, God replaces the brutality of human sacrifice with the sacrifice of a Ram, so in Christ it is the Lamb of God the takes our sins upon himself.
Sacrifice is, at the end of it all, not about violence, but about love. It is not about taking a life, but about giving life. It is not about blind faith, but about the hope of resurrection, the resurrection of the One clearly seen in all his glory.
[The image is "The Sacrifice of Isaac" by Caravaggio (1603)]