Sunday's Readings: Genesis 22:1-14 | Romans 6:12-23 | Matthew 10:40-42
One of the foremost scholars of this Genesis text – Jon Levenson – has said that the reader must in a way treat Isaac as an object in this story. An object and not as a boy.
Isaac is the thing that Abraham needs to get to God’s promise. God has promised that through Isaac blessings will flow not just for Abraham but for the whole world. God’s request that Abraham sacrifice the boy, that he give him up, is one more test of Abraham’s reliance on the promise and God’s ability to fulfil it over the means by which Abraham, in his limited human ways - imagines or hopes the promise will be fulfilled.
 Jon Levensen PHD – Teaching the Binding of Isaac balancing the bible and Midrash - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgaf66eg6gU
Abraham has already failed this test a couple of time. Earlier in the story, as immigrants in a foreign land, a land that God sent him to, Abraham lied to the authorities and said that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife. He imagined he would have to do such a thing so as to make it out of there alive. He imagined if the Egyptians knew he was her husband, someone would kill him in order to take such a beautiful woman from him – and the promise would be at an end. And then later he took his Egyptian servant Hagar as his wife and they together had a baby because Abraham and Sarah just couldn’t understand how on earth they, old and childless as they were, could possible bear a child as God had promised. He had been asked in both of these occasions to rely on God’s ability to fulfil God’s promise and he failed.
So now comes this new test and it would seem that this time he passes. He follows it through and he offers his son, this way to the promise, because finally he knows and he better trust that yes – God will actually provide and will be the one who works out the promise God has made. After passing this test so convincingly Abraham comes back down and we reach the end of his part in this story. Sarah dies and is buried, Abraham arranges a wife for Isaac, gives Isaac all he has, and then he dies. And we really don’t hear much more from Isaac, the object of this story, after this test other than his conversation with his family on his death bed and the blessing of his son Jacob – the one who would be called Israel, who would father the twelve tribes, and settle the land that God had given them through Abraham.
So yes Isaac is an object, a means to an end, the means by which the reader might know the depth of Abraham’s trust and the depth of God’s faithfulness to Abraham and to us – the heirs of this promise.
But the thing is, it’s just so very unsettling. Because Isaac is also a boy. A boy abused and used by those who have so much more power than he does. And it’s so very unsettling, so very difficult, because the agony that we can sense in this story is the same agony that we sense, that we know, in this world of ours.
Boys and girls are sacrificed every day. They are sacrificed by those who have so much more power than they do. They are sacrificed to war and violence: war and violence in their countries, in their schools, in their homes. Children are lost, and not just children, in ways that bring us to ask how God could let this happen? How could a God who is good and loving and wants justice let this happen.
And the confusion we feel, the unsettledness, the questions we hold are given voice as we read this passage. How can this be? It is just too awful – how can it be?
So as difficult as it is, we need this passage – we need to listen with those who have listened over the years, we need to question with those who have questioned over the years, and we need to know we are not alone in asking how on earth can this be?
But the thing is this passage doesn’t provide answers to that question. It just doesn’t. And I can’t provide an answer to that question. People have tried to squeeze an answer to the why question out of this text. They have read into it and imagined what was going on. Perhaps Abraham was deluded. Perhaps the answer to the test was to refuse what he was being asked to do. Perhaps so, but the thing is based on this text from Genesis we just don’t know why.
What we do know is that the loss and heartache that this story holds is real – kids, adults, the things of creation, are sacrificed in this world that God has made and loves, that God wants to be whole. And we watch in horror and we ask why.
But then what this text also tells us is that amidst this violence and confusion and questioning it is possible to see and know a God of love and hope. If we look we will see Rams in thickets. And in these Rams we get to see the presence of God offering another way.
In this passage the word for provide really means to see or be seen. When Abraham says to Isaac that the Lord will provide he is really saying the God will be seen. When the passage tells us that the mountain was called Mount Moriah because God shall provide – what it really says is that it shall be called Mount Moriah because the Lord shall be seen. And here is what is really important I think. That seeing, that revelation of God, is linked in this passage to the provision of the Ram not to the voice Abraham hears. God is seen in this story most fully in the Ram – those things that show up to let us know there is another way.
Jesus shows up to his disciples as a ram in a thicket – one who comes amidst violence and deep questions and confusion about God and Life. He shows up as one who offers a way through. And he asks his disciples, he asks us, to show up for others in the same way.
This story from Matthew comes at the end of a long teaching on rejection. Things will happen, Jesus tells them. When you go out to share my teaching and my healing, things will happen to make you feel rejected. People will tell you are no good, that you are naive and misguided, they will refuse your healing intent, they will keep doing what they have been doing despite your very best efforts to offer another way. And you will be attacked and you will feel discouraged and it’s going to be really, really hard a lot of the time.
This is as true now as it was then and we might spend some of our time asking why this would be. Why does the mom with 3 kids not access the help she needs, why does the government that is placed in authority to serve the people cut services that people need, why are countries spending billions waging war while populations starve and die for lack of medical attention, why do some make more money than they could ever spend while others with minimum wage jobs can’t afford a roof over their heads. And as we ask these questions we might see that the reasons are complex and the ways of being that make these things so are ingrained and entrenched, and even well-meaning. We can and we should spend time asking why, but as we look and we search just as we do with the questions the Genesis text raise we are asked at the same time to look for rams in thickets. We are asked to be rams in thickets. We are asked to know that amidst the chaos and hardship and difficult questions God shows up in the glass of water shared. God shows up and offers a way through in the small acts that we are able to do to care for each other.
And we just can’t really get to the mystery of this act either. That even as the water is so often refused or misused, even as the work of caring is difficult and so often doesn’t works itself out as we hope it might, as often as we might be rejected or left with more questions than answers, God simply shows up and does God’s work as we consistently and hopefully offer ourselves in the small and loving ways.
Just a Jesus showed up for us in his acts of healings, in his teaching and in his sacrifice of himself on the cross so we are to bring that God to others in acts of compassion, by putting our bodies and our resources on the line in faith that while we don’t understand it – God will be seen. God will heal. God will provide. Thanks be to God.
St. Andrew Sermons