Today’s first reading is taken from Genesis, and is the famous scene is which God seemingly will require Abraham to sacrifice his first-born (and only) son Isaac. The passage is one of the perplexing and confusing ones that raises all kinds of questions about who the God of the Bible really is! Would God really do that??
Bible scholars tell us that the passage, which ends with God staying Abraham’s hand from sacrificing Isaac, is intended as a commentary aimed at the social practices of the time. Many of the people of Abraham’s time did sacrifice their children to their God’s. Abraham’s experience with God is intended to draw a contrast between the God of Israel and the gods of the nations. The God of Israel is one who gives life, not takes life; this God is one committed to human flourishing, not human destruction. The God of the Bible is a giver not a taker — of life, and of all good. This God is discovered and experienced not in violence, but in gratitude, in peace, in respect for all that exists.
For Christians, the Old Testament passage rings echoes of the famous line from St. John’s Gospel: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son! (Jn. 3:16) As Abraham came to know the generosity of God, who is a giver of good, through the gifts of faith, of children and of land, so Christians discover the deep and eternal generosity of God through the gift of Jesus who has come to the world from the very heart and mystery of the God who is love itself.
Fr. Jim Thoman, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.