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God's Word on Sunday: Focus on voice of kindness and mercy

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  • February 21, 2021

Second Sunday of Lent, Feb. 28 (Year B) Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-35, 37; Mark 9:2-10

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most puzzling, difficult and potentially dangerous passages in the Bible. It should make us all ask some important questions: Did God actually ask this of Abraham, and if so, what does that say about God?

We cannot answer the first question with certainty and the second question is more difficult. This story occurred in the ancient world, in which sacrifice was the norm in all religions and human sacrifice was practised in a few. There is evidence that in their very early history even the Israelites sometimes offered human sacrifice (see Judges 11:29-40). But is this what God wanted?

There are two voices running through all of Scripture. One voice speaks of blood and sacrifice, but another voice continually rejects sacrifice and demands mercy and justice instead. This is very clear in Hosea 6:6: God desires mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Jesus quotes this in Matthew 9:13 and adds that people should go and learn what it means.

The manner in which we worship God and the images we have of God say more about us than God. We project so much of our own inner violence, fear and negativity on God that it is no wonder that there is so much religiously-inspired violence in our world.

Many a religiously-motivated terrorist has used explicit sacrificial language to justify their actions. We need to focus on the voice of non-violence, kindness and mercy that runs through Scripture from start to finish. God is a living and life-giving God and has no need of blood. The only acceptable sacrifice is that of self and ego for the sake of the well-being and happiness of others. This sacrifice is most difficult for it demands the death of selfishness.

Returning to the story, we ask why Abraham would consent to do what he was asked. This was his son, his promised heir and guarantee of living on through descendants. He goes about the preparations in grim silence — we have no idea what he was thinking or feeling. The only interpretation that makes sense is that Abraham knew God so intimately that he was certain God would not allow him to harm Isaac. He showed his absolute trust and willingness to give all to God. This was the faith that was reckoned to him as righteousness, making him our father in faith.

God is for us, not against us. It sounds like a statement of the obvious, but some feel that God is out to get us. They spend their lives in a sort of game, trying to keep on the good side of God but always fearing the worst. Others believe that God is for us, but they interpret “us” as a reference to their own nation, class or religion.

“Us” means everyone, without exception. Paul rightly points out that if God gave God’s only Son for our sake, how could we ever think that God was not there for us? Believing this in our hearts gives us the courage to face anything, knowing that God is at our side and stops at nothing to help us on our journey.

What was the transfiguration and what did it mean? The Gospels describe the event but there is little if any explanation, leaving us with a host of questions.

Jesus took His three closest apostles with Him to a mountaintop and they experienced something exhilarating but a bit frightening: Jesus radiating an intense light while He talked with Moses and Elijah. Jesus is the culmination of God’s plan of salvation that began so long ago with the call to Abraham and the giving of the Law to Moses.

Peter did not know what to make of it — he could only give in to the impulse to capture the moment by building a shrine. The divine voice from the cloud had other ideas — it identified Jesus as the beloved Son and commanded that He be listened to. Jesus did not come merely to be worshipped but to be obeyed and followed.

From this point onwards in the Gospel, Jesus journeyed resolutely towards Jerusalem and His destiny. How well do we really listen to the beloved Son?

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