Today’s first Mass reading is the difficult story in Genesis in which God asks Abraham to do something that sounds horrific. “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whome you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering on a height that I will point out to you.”
What? What kind of a God asks someone to kill his son? His “only one, whom [he] love[s]”? What kind of God demands the killing of a beloved son as a demonstration of loyalty? It is hard to fault those whose immediate reaction to that question is: Not a God that I want to be associated with.
God, it turns out, does not actually require Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. But that raises another question: If God never intended to have Abraham go through with the act, why ask it in the first place?
The only answer that makes sense to me is that the command for Abraham to kill Isaac was God’s way of asking Abraham to confront the depth of his faith in and love of God. God says, I give all for the sake of my love for you, holding nothing back. Will you do the same? Will you allow nothing to stand in the way of our love?
To us, God might add: I give all for you, including the life of my own son. Will you do the same for me?
What happens when you put that question to yourself honestly?
It is easy to say yes – of course, God, you know I’m with you all the way. I’d do anything to show my love for you.
And I sure want to be able to answer with a wholehearted yes. But when I read stories like this Genesis passage about Abraham, I have to wonder how well I would do if put to the test.
“I love you, Lord,” are words I mouth multiple times every day, but acting consistently out of that love and being willing to give everything up for the sake of that love – is much harder. I’m guessing I’m not the only one for whom that is the case.