04 March 2012

HIS OWN SON - HE DID NOT SPARE!



2nd Sunday of Lent
Gen 22:1-2.10-13.15-18 / Ps 11 / Rom 8:31-34 / Mk 9:2-10

When salvation history was just starting there was an empty womb.  Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren.  Her womb should be just that: empty.  Yet despite this impossibility – plus the impressive arithmetic of their ages – both Sarah and Abraham hoped that someday they would have even just one child.  They prayed and waited for God’s positive reply not only despite these impossibilities but also no matter how long it took God to give in.  Their prayerful waiting paid off, Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac whose name literally means “laughter”.

But what followed after some years was certainly not a laughing matter.  God, for some unbelievable reason, wanted Isaac back.  He did not only want Isaac back; He wanted Him as a burnt offering!  And as if that was not enough for Isaac’s parents to lose their minds, God ordered that Abraham himself should slaughter his own son, Isaac.  But Abraham’s response to God’s command was even more unbelievable: he agreed.  In the way the Bible narrates the story to us, Abraham apparently did not even argue with God.  No protest from him is recorded.  No anguish madness is heard nor seen from him.  There is not even a mention that he discussed with Sarah, his wife, God’s horrific demand.  Thus, we may even wonder if Sarah ever knew it.  And if Sarah knew it, would the story be different?  We can only speculate because it seems that the secret was Abraham’s alone.

Quietly, with his son-soon-to-be-his-victim, Abraham trekked the road to Moriah.  Did he drag his feet, with the heart bleeding every step of the way?  Then breaking the silence that perhaps was uncomfortably unusual between them, Isaac asked Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.  “Look,” Isaac continued, “the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  Abraham answered (Oh, could he even look at his boy straight in the eye?): “My son, God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”  Indeed, God Himself will provide.  Poor Isaac, he was not aware that he was that lamb to be slaughtered and burnt for God.  Do our hearts not bleed?  Father and son were both headed for Mount Moriah, but only the son to his death…at the hands of his very own father…and, more disturbing, Scripture has it, as commanded by no less than God Himself.

When they arrived at Mount Moriah, did Abraham explain to his son what he was about to do to him before he seized him?  Or did he just grab him right away?  We also do not know, for the narrative is quiet about it; and its silence is really very deafening and overly disturbing.  All we know is that when the altar was built and the wood arranged, Abraham, with a knife in his hand, was ready to cut his son’s throat before he set him to fire as an offering to God.  But suddenly God seemed to change His mind: He stopped Abraham from laying his hand on the boy and, instead, poured upon him blessings as a reward for his obedience.  And seeing a ram, whose horns were caught in a nearby bush, Abraham then offered an animal sacrifice – rather than human – to God. 

True, this story describes Abraham’s unconditional, total, and strong faith in God.  But there is more than just a statement on Abraham’s faith in God here.  I believe, this story also takes up the issue on human sacrifice. 

We must remember that Abraham lived in the most ancient of days when human sacrifice was a prevalent religious ritual.  In Abraham’s story, God appeared to be approving human sacrifice but, as it turned out, He was actually abolishing it.  That God eventually stopped the ritual murder of a person – Isaac – and an animal – a ram – is sacrificed in his stead clearly speaks for this argument.  Thus, from then on, as far as the Judaic religion is concerned, animal sacrifice replaced human sacrifice. 

But are we not disturbed that while God prevented Isaac’s slaughter, He did not budge an inch to stop the murder of His Son?  Rather, He allowed Jesus’ enemies to do with Him what pleased them.  And even when His Son was already crucified on the cross, uttering His seven final words as mortal life was gradually ebbing away from Him, God did nothing, said nothing, but saw everything.  While He intervened to stop the killing of Abraham’s son, He simply watched His own slaughtered right before His very eyes.  Does that not disturb you very deeply?  It does to me!  Come to think of it, if God could allow His only begotten Son be brutally murdered by His enemies without a fight, what assurance do we have therefore that He will come to our rescue when we our selves need Him?

Ironically, God’s not sparing His own Son, St. Paul the Apostle tells us in the second reading today, is the very assurance we have that God will not refuse us anything He can give.  Because God can do all things, God therefore will give us all things, for in giving us Jesus, His Son, God already gave us everything He had.

Indeed, Lent should make us consider more not what we give up for God but what God gave up for us: His only begotten Son.  Whatever things we offer to or people we let go for God are already thanksgiving offerings to His immense love for us and not bribes for Him to love us more.  The cross is not the cause of God’s love for us.  The cross, rather, is the fruit of His love for us.  Jesus’ crucifixion did not add anything to God’s love for us, for He already loved us even before the cross, even without the cross, and even after the cross.  The cross, rather, proved that God indeed loves more than we know, for not even death on the cross stopped Him from loving us.  God, who loved us first, gave up His only begotten Son for us even before we give up anything for Him.

In Gen 22:14, we read that Abraham called the place where God gave him a ram to take the place of Isaac, his son, as holocaust, Jehova jireh, which means, “The Lord will provide.”  On another mountain called the “Skull”, Golgotha, God provided us our Lamb of sacrifice: Jesus Christ.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, His disciples gradually saw His words and actions during The Last Supper as replacing animal sacrifice with the bloodless sacrifice of the Mass.  Jesus is now the sacrificial lamb, not only replacing the old animal sacrifice, but also ending all other sacrifices – animals and humans alike. 

Furthermore, in Christ’s Eucharist, the sacrifice is offered not only to God but also to us.  Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is our thanksgiving to God.  But, at the same time, Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is also God’s gift to us.  Having offered Himself to the Father, Jesus then commands us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  Jesus is not food for God; He is the food for us!  Now, Jesus is the Lamb OF God, not the Lamb FOR God.  Thus, we proclaim Jesus as the Lamb OF God who takes away our sins, and not the Lamb FOR God who pacifies a wrathful, angry, vengeful, punitive God.  In Jesus and through Jesus, the Lamb of God, we see that God is for us, as the second reading today proclaims, and we know we loved indeed and are given eternal life by God.

But let it not be said that God willed the death of His Son.  Yes, He allowed it but did not plan it.  The death of Jesus was not the Father’s will.  Rather, the death of Jesus was a consequence of His fidelity to the Father’s will.  The Father’s will is that we all receive fullness of life through His Son but because of our sins the giving of fullness of life became so difficult as there stood between God and us the cross.  Because of our sins, Jesus died so that He may give us fullness of life.  The death of Jesus was not God’s invention; it was our creation.

But not because God lifted no finger to spare His Son from death, rather allowed Him to die, it meant that God really did nothing.  God, having seen His Son’s obedience, foreshadowed by the obedient faith of Abraham, applauded His Son, as it were, and the Son could not but rise.  God accepted His Son’s obedience and made Him a surpassing blessing to us.

Thus, in the Transfiguration story that we once again read in the Gospel today, we heard the Father’s voice commanding us: “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  That same voice commanded Abraham to offer His Son as a holocaust when salvation history was just starting.  That same voice stopped Abraham from slaughtering His Son and taught all those who regard Abraham as their “Father in Faith” that God does not delight in human sacrifice.  That same voice that did not speak in Calvary has actually spoken already before Calvary.  On Mount Tabor, the mountain of transfiguration, it already said: “This is my Son, My beloved.  Listen to Him.”  Do we listen to Jesus?  And because listening, shema, for the Jews mean obeying, lesmuah, do we really obey Jesus?

In the name of love, God did not spare His own Son for us.  If we are truly grateful to Him, should there be anything we dare refuse God?

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