Saturday, February 28, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent: The Divine Madman

Today's first reading is one most people raised in Christian homes will be familiar with: the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. So the story goes, God asks Abraham to sacrifice (read as: literally kill as a burnt offering) his "only son Isaac" on a mountain he will show to him. Abraham tells Isaac they're going to make a burnt offering to the Lord, Abraham and Isaac go up the mountain together. Isaac carries the wood for his own sacrifice, which Abraham laid on his back. Isaac, not catching on to what's going on, asks Abraham how they're going to make an offering without a lamb to sacrifice. Abraham responds: "God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice." Abraham builds an altar on the top of the mountain, binds up Isaac, sets him up to be burnt-and-offered, and raises his knife and ----

God sends an angel to command Abraham not to dare lay a hand on the boy. As predicted by Abraham, albeit unwittingly, God provides a lamb for the sacrifice; a ram is caught in a bush nearby, which the two sacrifice in place of Isaac.

This story is disturbing. I won't even try to sugar coat it. What kind of father consents to killing his son? How insane does that father have to be? What sort of radicalized faith in a higher power does someone have to have before they say, "Well, sure I'll kill my son and offer him up as a burnt sacrifice." To the original Jewish audience, the story is scandalizing. Abraham isn't just sacrificing his son, he's sacrificing his only son, his firstborn son, his heir. His own promised one, that he waited so patiently for for so many years.

But whether through an ancient Jewish lens, or a modern lens, this story is disturbing. And if you aren't taken aback by it, I suggest that perhaps you are missing the point.

What kind of unfettered love for God does man have to have to kill his own son? To give up his firstborn son? His only son? What kind of unfettered love does God have to have for man to hand over His only Son?

" have not withheld your own son..." Genesis 22:16
"He who did not withhold His own Son, but handed Him over for all of us, will He not with Him also provide for us all other things?" Romans 8:32

God Himself will provide a lamb for the sacrifice.

It is important to note here Jesus' full and free consent -- and yes, desire -- to die for humanity. Unlike Isaac, Jesus consented to His crucifixion and along with the Father and the Holy Spirit in fact planned for it from the beginning of time. God cannot contradict Himself; neither can the Persons of the Trinity contradict one another in their will. Many people think of it in terms of the Father willingly thrusting His Son into the world and having Him killed; few seem to have considered the perspective of the Son desiring to die and the Father allowing it, permitting it. The latter perspective, while not a perfect analogy of the mind of the Trinity (there is no such thing as a perfect analogy of the Trinity) is most in line with the Christian view.

Isaac didn't know that the wood laid on his back was intended for his execution; Jesus knew well what the wood laid on His back was meant for. Isaac didn't know he was preparing a fire of death for himself; Jesus knew well that He was participating in a plan to redeem man from death by His own death. Isaac, we can only imagine, was horrified when he was tied down. Jesus begged for mercy on those who put nails through Him. I don't ever want to see the dread and devastation in Isaac's eyes as he realizes that his father isn't kidding around with that knife. I can only imagine the exasperated love poured forth in the words "Father, into Your hands, I commend my spirit."

St. Faustina called Jesus the "Divine Madman" for His radical devotion to humanity and His unwavering, undying mercy. In her view, He had to be crazy to love us the way He so plainly does. We are as sinful as our commitments are weak. And He loves us anyway. Forgives us anyway. Chooses to die anyway. He loves us.

And His Father loves Him, and His Father loves us, too.

We cannot begin to fathom the love God has for us, but from the story of Abraham and Isaac, we can at least understand that it is beyond our comprehension.

As the old hymn goes, "How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He would give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure; How deep the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away, as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory."

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