When I was in seminary 33 years ago I did my very first exegesis on this text because I found it so difficult to understand. I don't now know what I wrote at that time - I have preached on it several times and continue to struggle.
One of the questions with this story is how far do we take it. There has been so much written about this in both Christian and Jewish scholarship. Kathryn Schifferdecker wrote "There is a Yiddish folk tale that goes something like this: Why did God not send an angel to tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Because God know that no angel would take on such a task. Instead the angels said, "if you want to command death, do it yourself." I have read descriptions of the trauma afterwards to both Abraham and Isaac. One person suggested that Isaac's weakness with his sons Jacob and Esau stemmed from his trauma of his father almost killing. How far do we take this story?
For me, it has a truth in it and it actually goes back to what I wrote about yesterday in terms of spiritual formation and detachment. It seems to me that there are several characters in the Bible - such as Abraham, Joseph. Moses and David whose stories are told in such detail that we can see how God is working and transforming them. With Abraham there is over the course of 10 chapters a change in his trust of God. When before he tried to save himself through duplicity (twice) now he is trusting that God will provide the lamb. But he is willing to trust and allow it to unfold.
This story is linked to Jesus going to the cross and himself being the lamb. We rememberthat in Gethsemane he earnestly prayed - "if it be thy will, take this cup from me." And then walked into his crucifixion without which we would not know that power of God and the glory of the resurrection. Even this story - of the death of Jesus - raises the question of how far do we go in our interpretation. I have heard sermons (and saw the movie "The Passion of the Christ) which seemed to emphasize the violence and the physical pain of Jesus. At the same time too often we skim past it to get to the Easter Lilies and the Risen Christ.
These Lenten readings invite us to struggle and so today I do. I hate that this seems to be saying that God tests us - I hate it because I know that so often I fail that test. And I see here that clearly God does provide but we do not really know about God's provision until we put God to the test by trusting God with every part of our lives.
I have done a lot of reading about this text this morning and can't remember who said that faith is about two hearts bound together - Abraham and God. Jesus and God. Margot and God. And in this relationship each of us can be hurt.
Someone wrote: "Relationship with the real God is not for the risk averse." One of the other texts for today is Hebrews 11: 1-3; 13-19 which includes this: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." So I pray this morning for courage and faith to to truly trust God.
A Blessing by Maxine Shonk
May the God of COURAGE be with your,
helping you to embrace the darkness and pain of the journey, calling you to stand in love with those who suffer.
May this God carve her faithful love into your heart.
May your inner self be transformed so that you can see more clearly your own journey as one of peace, hope, and solidarity.
May the blessing of COURAGE be on you.