Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rosh Hashana Reflection

Abraham and Isaac, 17th Century, attributed to Giovanni Lanfranco

The tradition at Rosh Hashana is to hear the story of Abraham's almost-sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac, on the mountain at Moriah. At Temple Israel, they call upon their younger members, teen-agers, to chant this all-important and disturbing Torah portion.

Here's my summary: God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Isaac obediently goes along with his father on this three-day journey, carries the wood, and asks his father, "Um, dad? Where's the ram that we're going to sacrifice?" And Abraham says, "Oh, don't worry. God will provide." He then ties up his son and prepares to sacrifice him to God. That's when the angel comes in and says, "Whoa! Stop!! You made your point! You really do fear God!" And the ram appears in the thicket for the proper sacrifice, all is well, and the two men return from the mountain to go live in Beer-sheba. Isaac would father Jacob (and Esau)... and, from there, the nation of Israel is born.

There are several things that strike me in the story: for one thing, I often have wondered if God really told Abraham to do this, or is this, again, some myth that is used to illustrate a greater truth: that Abraham was so obedient to God that he would even kill his son if asked? I also wonder about "fearing God". I brought this one up to my mentor one time and she explained to not read "fear" in this case as "Oooh, I'm scared!" but rather as awe. As in, "stopped in your tracks and standing slack-jawed" awe.

This story is one of those that is often cited by my friends who want to trash religious belief... especially Christianity (this comes with being the dominant religion in our culture). It goes back to my first question about whether this command had come from God. Assuming it did, then my friends who are atheists, agnostics, or just passionately-opposed to Christians for the years and years of gay-bashing in Christ's name, seize on this moment to say, "See! God asked for a human sacrifice!" This will then spiral into their next favorite, "Gotcha" example: the death of Jesus on the cross. "What kind of God would kill his own Son?!"

It is tough to understand. You would think that this God of love would never do such a thing. That is if all you look at in the cross is the death that occured there. And if you don't stop to consider that the death that occured on the cross was God's sacrifice for the purposes of wiping the slate clean for humanity in another attempt to remain in relationship with us. And if you don't understand that the story of Christ doesn't stop at Good Friday, but culminates in the resurrection on Easter, a statement that eternal life will overcome death every time.

Isaac was lucky enough to have an angel save the day when his father was brandishing a knife over him. The sacrifice wasn't the point; the obedience to God seems to have been the main issue. There was more in store for Isaac... and humanity. More opportunities for God's people to be God's people. Even today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I missed this earlier and I think you have hit the nail on the head that the death of Jesus on the cross was to have us take a look at what we can consider doing while we are here on this earth to make it a better place. As I read the Daily Office I am getting a better picture all the time.

As Bishop Gene would say I think, we pray for all, the believers or thos who don't. Thank God, he didn't kill his son.