Sunday, March 12, 2006
The Offering of the Only Beloved Son
Here's a little analysis on the story read in today's first reading at Mass.
Abraham Offers Isaac
Once Abraham's son Ishmael is banished he is left with his only beloved son Isaac. God now puts Abraham to the ultimate test, asking him to sacrifice his long awaited son on the mountain range known as Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22:1-2). Abraham obeys and sets off with Isaac on the three-day journey to the appointed place (Gen. 22:3-4). Once they get there, Isaac carries the wood of the sacrifice up the hill (Gen. 22:6). Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). Abraham responds, “God will provide Himself the Lamb” (Gen. 22:8). But just as Abraham is about to plunge the knife into his son, the Lord spares Isaac, and makes a covenant with him, swearing to bless all the nations through his descendants (Gen. 22:11-12, 15-18). Abraham spots a ram and offers it to the Lord (Gen. 22:13-14).
In Abraham the curse of the fall is partially reversed. Because of his disobedience, Adam triggered the covenant curses. Yet, through Abraham’s faithfulness God promises to bless all peoples.
The Binding of Isaac
The ancient Rabbis called this story the Aqedah – the “binding” of Isaac. They explained that this story is just as much about Isaac’s self-offering as it is about Abraham’s faithfulness. They pointed out that Isaac was strong enough to carry the wood up the mountain (Gen. 22:6). They concluded that he was a grown youth, easily capable of overcoming his decrepit father. Therefore, Jewish tradition explained that Isaac asked to be “bound” so that he would not be able to struggle against his father and crawl off the altar. For example, see Judith 8:26-27, which describes the episode in terms of a testing of both Abraham and Isaac: "Remember what [God] did with Abraham, and how he tested Isaac… For he has not tested us with fire, as He did them, to search their hearts.”
The temple of Jerusalem was later built on Moriah (2 Chron. 3:1). There the people of Israel offered their sacrifices, in effect, reminding God of his promise to Abraham. The need for these sacrifices ends once Christ comes as the true Lamb of God – “God will provide Himself the Lamb” (Gen. 22:8).
The Only Beloved Son of the Father
The early Church fathers understood this story as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the true only beloved Son of the Father. In fact, in the Church’s liturgy the story of Genesis 22 is read in connection with Jesus’ transfiguration. There the apostles hear God the Father say, “This is my beloved Son” (Mk. 9:7). This evokes God’s word to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…” (Gen. 22:2). Like Isaac, Jesus is the only beloved Son of the Father, who is sacrificed for the salvation of the world (cf. John 3:16).
Jesus offers himself to the Father in Jerusalem, where Abraham offered Isaac. Also, like Isaac, Jesus carries the wood up the mountain, fully submitting to the Father’s will (cf. Gen. 22:6; Lk. 23:26). Finally, Jesus rises from the dead on the third day, just as Abraham received his son back from the sentence of death on the third day (cf. Gen. 22:4; 1 Cor. 15:4). In fact, Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son because he “considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead.”
When Abraham offered Isaac, the Lord promised to bless all the nations. Little did he know that he was foreshadowing the way God would bring about that blessing. In Christ, Abraham’s words came true: “The Lord will provide himself the lamb.”