Where in the Lamb for a Burnt Offering?
Second Sunday of Lent (2009)

Jeremiah R. Grosse
Reproduced with Permission

One of the most challenging passages in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story known in Hebrew as "The Akedah", the binding of Isaac. Abraham waited until he was in his nineties to have God's promise of a son with his wife, Sarah, fulfilled and he is asked by God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Why in the world would God do this? The God of Abraham had given no indication that He was like many of the other deities around Him who needed to be appeased by human sacrifice. In fact, up until now, the relationship which Abraham had with God has been intensely personal. God spoke to Abraham, unlike those idols of wood or stone, which were incapable of giving, even the slightest indication, that they heard the prayers that the people offered to them.

Now it appears that things are changing. God appears to be asking for a human sacrifice. Abraham is not horrified by what God is asking of him, but he simply gives in to God’s request.

Who among us would simply give in to such a request from God and offer up our child as a way of proving our loyalty. Several years ago Susan Smith from South Carolina placed her children in their car seat, pushed her car into the water, and watched as her children drowned. The members of the jury were able to see what the children saw as the car filled up with water after the prosecutor’s office set up a video camera in a car seat and lowered a car into the water. The camera showed the jurors what the children would have experienced and the horror of it led to a quick conviction. Throughout the trial it was mentioned that Susan Smith believed that God had told her to do what she did. For us, hearing someone say that God told them to kill their children is tantamount to either mental illness or an evil lack of responsibility. How could anyone possibly believe that God would ask Susan Smith to murder her babies?

This morning’s passage from the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis has been edited and leaves out some rather interesting details. After traveling for three days, Abraham and Isaac arrived at the place where God told them to go along with two men that Abraham brought with him. Abraham said to the two 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.” He did not say, “We will worship and I will come back to you”, but rather “we will come back to you.” The Jewish sages tell us that when the title God (Elohim) is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures it is used in reference to Divine Justice and when Lord (YHWH) is mentioned it refers to Divine Mercy. When asked by Isaac, “We have the wood and the fire, but where is lamb for a brunt offering?” Abraham says, “God Himself will provide the lamb, my son.” Abraham is expressing faith in the justice of God, that He will make everything right.

Abraham built an altar, bound his son, Isaac, placed him upon the wood on the altar and was about to slay him, but the angel of the Lord (representing God’s Divine justice) says, “Abraham do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God since you would not withhold your only son from me.” Instead Abraham offered a ram which he saw was caught by its horns in the thicket and he named that place, “The Lord will provide”. The mercy of God provided for them. Since Abraham did not withhold his only son from God, he was promised that his descendants would be as countless as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore.

The parallels between The Akedah and the life of Jesus are quite obvious. God willingly offer His only Son and raised Him up on the third day. For many Orthodox and Chasidic Jews, the story of the binding of Isaac is understood as proof that there will indeed be a resurrection. By holding back Abraham’s hand, it is believed that God resurrected Isaac who was as good as dead to Abraham.

We too may feel as good as dead in our sins from time-to-time. It is at those moments when we need to trust in God’s mercy and make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that we might experience a type of resurrection from the death which results from sin.

This Holy Season of Lent gives us an opportunity to get our lives in order so that we might experience Easter with the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Trusting is God’s justice and mercy, let us go forth this morning, having been strengthened by the Bread of Life, to be bearers of Good News in a world which is so desperately in need of hearing it.