Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10
The story of Abraham and Isaac that we hear from Genesis today is considered as one of the more bizarre stories we encounter in Scripture. I mean, who in their right might would kill a child? Who? Especially this child and in this story. We know that this child is all that Abraham and Sarah ever wanted. They waited until their twilight years before Isaac arrives and now Abraham stands over him, not simply to sacrifice, but as the reading tells us, to slaughter him. That’s what we hear. It’s what we see today. You know that almost half the people killed in Syria this week were children. Children being slaughtered senselessly and yet here we are.
The story, though, is told in relation to the one that ends up being sacrificed. It’s the ram that takes the place of Isaac in the story. As much as Isaac stands as the vulnerable one, the ram comes with great symbolism in Scripture. The ram represents power and strength. It’s typically the leaders of the lambs because of it’s horns. It has a natural sense of power and strength built into its structure. However, as we hear in the reading today, the very gift of the ram, its horns, becomes its downfall. All its power and strength gets it stuck in the thicket and so its power leads to its demise. So what is it that Abraham is sacrificing. The whole story not only tells us something about him but it also tells us something about the God that he believed in in his life. Not only who would kill a child but what kind of God would want someone to kill a child. Yet, there he was and there we are even to this very day. Even in those early moments God is trying to reveal something more about God and what it is that Abraham needs to sacrifice.
This child and the ram have a message for Abraham as to what that is. Here he is, about to hand the baton to Isaac, the inheritance, the legacy, the kingdom that has been promised, and yet is about to kill. Maybe in those moments Abraham had doubts about the whole thing or maybe the eventual sacrifice opens the eyes, that it’s not the vulnerable one that is to be slaughtered but that sense of power and strength that the ram symbolizes. More often than not, the vulnerable become the easy target, especially if they’re revealing something about ourselves that we’re uncomfortable with in life. When we begin to feel as if our own power, or perceived power for that matter, are slipping from our fingers, we react against that vulnerability. Yet, the child has something to expose us to. That goes for your kids as well. None of them turn out as you might have wanted but all along they expose us to ourselves. Yeah, kids are kids, but they view the world in a very different way than ourselves. They have yet to become jaded or beat down by the world and especially in those moments of great suffering, as was for Isaac, in their cry they expose us to what is most important. Is it that power and strength that does more harm than good or that place of vulnerability, that child within, that continues to cry out to be loved and nurtured, exposing us to our own shortcomings and our buy-in to the illusion of power.
The same could be said of the disciples in today’s Gospel from Mark. First thing they want to do after having this vision is set up shop. They think this is what it’s all about and there’s no need to go any further. They’re still clamoring for that same power and control. Heck, as much as they say they won’t tell anyone it’s only a few verses later where they’re fighting with each other about who’s most important and who’s in charge, who it is that carries that horns of that ram. For them, as it is for us, that sense of power, control, and perceived strength will always be our downfall. The same will be true for the disciples. It will not be until they find themselves in the most vulnerable of places, at the foot of the cross, before they begin to put the pieces together and see what this life is all about. Until then, they’ll fight for power and be blinded by it’s gaze. They can’t even seem to help themselves.
The Son has a great deal to teach and reveals not only the true to them but exposes them to their own shadow. The Son, as Isaac does, points out what is often our real intention and our own selfishness. All of this is why we so often encounter Jesus among the children, the poor, women, the sick and destitute. They see the world so often from the bottom up because that’s how they lived their lives. They were told they were worthless and often excluded from society. Jesus raises them up and in doing so reveals the insecurity of the leaders of that day and the leaders of our own day and their own motivation for power. The Son and the children have something to teach us and our exposing our own bankrupt culture, crying out for something more. The question is, are we going to listen?
This season of Lent provides us the space to be challenged in such ways and what it is that we’re sacrificing in our own lives. Are we sacrificing what is most important and dear to us all for the sake of power and position, agendas in our own lives. We know the cost and is the cost worth the most vulnerable, the generation that we’re called to pass the baton to. In faith, we know we will be alright but as I said, when it feels like that power is slipping away and we become exposed for who we really are, what’s left. Abraham tells us, as does Paul, what’s left is all that matters, the most precious of all, the vulnerable and sacred lives that have been given to us. We are at a critical point to ask such questions in our lives and world in the way we are to proceed. Do we continue to seek the illusion of the horns, which will eventually bring us down anyway, or to listen to the powerless son in Isaac and the powerless Son in Christ, pointing us to something more, to that place of vulnerability where a life of faith, surrender, and trust can overflow.