A liberating test
Few scripture readings are as disturbing as our reading today from Genesis. You are in good company if you are wondering why would God test Abraham in this way. What does it say about God, to require this kind of a test?
The most traditional understanding of this scripture story is that it marks the end of child sacrifice in the Hebrew tradition, even though it remained common in the pagan cultures of the region.
Or maybe its just a story about sacrifice, about one’s willingness to give for God? And that sometimes what one gives or gives up for God feels difficult and leaves one conflicted?
Or maybe the ram was present all along and Abraham was so anxious and singularly focused that he missed God’s grace until God made it blatantly clear that the ram was there?
Rabbis in the Jewish tradition have an ancient process by which they explore the meaning of scripture which is called “Midrash.”
Midrash considers to the “rough” spots, the places in the text that seem incongruous, or somehow jump out.
Some rough spots in this text include: “why a test?” We aren’t told why God was testing Abraham, only that “God tested Abraham.” So the rabbis wonder, what is this about? In midrash, nothing is meaningless, every word might point to something profound.
Another midrash has Isaac and his half brother Ishmael arguing about who Abraham loves best. Before long the argument turns to God. Isaac offers to be sacrificed as proof of his love for God, regardless of who Abraham might love best.
There are also scholarly conversations on Hagar and Sarah and their potential response to this event, even though they are silent in the text. Sarah, who up until this point has been a prominent character and directed events in order to bring forth God’s desire, is suddenly silent. She has nothing to say regarding this, never speaks again, and when she dies she’s in a different area than Abraham. It’s unclear what happened to her.
And what about Hagar? Six chapters earlier, in chapter 16, Hagar has an encounter with God in the wilderness and she becomes the first person in the Bible to name God, “El Roi, the God Who Sees.” Later, in Chapter 24 Isaac travels past a well called Beer Lahai Roi, which means, “the one who sees me lives.” One idea suggests that Isaac ran from the attempted sacrifice to Hagar and sought comfort from her, never returning to Abraham or Sarah.
Soon, Isaac will meet Rebecca, the woman who becomes his wife. Is it just a coincidence that he meets her in the same place where Hagar lives?
There seems to be a connection between Hagar and Isaac and what it means to see and hear God in one’s life, and as a result to be liberated from that which binds them.
If one believes that scripture is just ancient stories from a former time, then a flat and literal interpretation of the text works. But if one believes that the stories in the Bible reveal something about the ongoing presence of God in the lives of human beings, then the text comes alive.
Today I am pondering what it means to be liberated by God. What do I need to be liberated from in my life, and how is God trying to liberate me? What do I need to sacrifice or give up or offer up to God and how will that help bring forth liberation? What sign of God’s grace is right in front of me, and I’m not seeing it?
Perhaps these are some of your questions, too? Or maybe you have other questions that the text has surfaced?
Stories like these in Genesis invite us to delve deeper into the human condition and explore the meaning of life and what makes life meaningful. In a similar way the Renaissance Strategy Task Fore is pondering who Christ Church is now at 150 years old. What does this congregation need to be liberated of? What do we need to sacrifice, offer up, or give away so that we can live most fully as God is calling us to live?
a reflection on the readings for Proper 8 Genesis 22:1-14