God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’
When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.
But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.
The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
First reading for the 2nd Sunday of Lent
The story of the testing of Abraham takes us into a very dark place. Commonplace are stories of people with mental illness who account for their murderous actions by saying ‘the voices’ told them to do it.
Here God draws Abraham towards actions that will be forbidden in the commandments and that are deeply shocking to contemplate.
And yet Abraham’s obedience to the true God, the God of love, is such that he takes this path. His love meets with love, and he stands yet as our Father in Faith.
When we in our turn face darkness in our lives two things from this story are there to support us – firstly that faithfulness of Abraham, willing to obey God and put his trust in him, even when commanded to do things which would seem counter to everything else he knew and believed; secondly that God never stops loving Abraham and has promised never to stop loving his descendants…
Detail of 12th C. enamel. Collection of the Louvre, Paris. (c) 2017, Allen Morris.