Part 1 on this reflection on faith ended with the words, “Entrust yourself into God’s care.” Apparently, Sarah did not get this message. God was setting the stage for Abraham to respond with a radical act of faith. Let us now see if Abraham caved in to Sarah and her pressures as Adam did with Eve.
In Chapter 21 of Genesis, nothing much happened, Isaac hadn’t come as yet. Sarah got a little concerned, and she decided to take things into her own hands. She told Abraham to take her slave girl and have a son through her. After Abraham had a son through the slave girl, Sarah became pregnant. Isaac was born. Then Sarah had another problem: competition because of the slave girl’s son Ishmael.
One day Sarah saw Ishmael playing with her son Isaac. This didn’t sit well with Sarah. She said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave girl with her son, for the son of this slave girl shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham because Ishmael was his son. But God said to him, “Be not distressed on account of the boy and your slave girl. Heed all that Sarah says to you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be called. I will also make the son of the slave girl a great nation because he is your offspring.”
You wonder why God asked such a thing from Abraham, to give up one of his sons. What we need to understand is that God was setting Abraham up for an even more radical and perfect act of faith.
Abraham left his land and, as result of that act of faith, his entrustment into God’s care, Isaac had miraculously arrived. Now, the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham depended on Isaac. It was through Isaac that he would become the father of a great nation. We need to understand the meaning of that promise by God to Abraham. Scripture scholars tell us that, at that time, the Israelites really didn’t have an understanding of life after death. The way you lived on was in your descendants. But God told Abraham to entrust himself to Him, and He would give Abraham eternal life. Abraham made that radical act of faith, but God was not finished with him yet.
In Chapter 22, God put Abraham to a greater test. He said to him, “Abraham!” Abraham answered, “Here I am!” This was a very simple and powerful response, “Ad sum.”
This is very meaningful to me because, when I was ordained, they called the roll of those to be ordained. As your name was called, you stood up and responded, “Ad sum!” “Here I am!” This is the attitude that God needs on our part. Here I am, I’m ready. It’s an attitude of what faith is all about. Faith is simply being available to God. When He calls, I listen and respond with open hands.
God asked this of Abraham, “Take the son whom you love and go into the district of Moriah and there offer him as a holocaust on the hill which I will point out to you.”
Now we understand why God had Ishmael sent away. What God was doing with Abraham was saying, “Do you love me because you love me or do you love me because I gave you Isaac and the promise?” Even though Abraham would have been willing to surrender Isaac to God, he would have had Ishmael to fall back on had he not been sent away. But, because Abraham didn’t have Ishmael to fall back on, what God was asking of Abraham was everything.
This is what God does with us, He asks everything of us. Why does He do this? It’s not because He’s mean or arbitrary or because He feels like toying with us. It’s because He needs from us an attitude toward Him that the persons of the Blessed Trinity have toward each other and that God has toward us. He needs us to have an attitude of total gift, total gift in love, total gift that is selfless and pure with no self-interest. When you think about it, the identity of each one of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity can be defined only in terms of what they are for the Other Persons.
They cannot be defined in terms of Themselves. You can understand the Father only if you can understand what the Son is. The Father is one who gives his life to His Son. The Son is the One Who receives life from the Father and reflects his life back to the Father. The Holy Spirit is the One Who is the bond of union, the means by which the Father gives himself to the Son and by which the Son gives himself to the Father. Each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity is totally selfless, totally for the other Persons. That is the meaning of life. That is the meaning of love.
So God, in order to share His life with us needs us to be willing to be as He is: to have the attitude toward Him that the persons of the Trinity have within themselves and toward each other and that God has toward us: selfless. And that is what Paul captures when he says, “The life I lead now is no longer my own, it is Christ who lives in me.” True to all appearances, I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God. Faith, meaning a life of total giving of myself unconditionally over to God who totally gave himself over to me, who loves me and gave himself on my behalf.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him might not perish, but might have everlasting life.” It’s only through faith that we have God’s life. It’s only through faith that we have the proper attitude to surrender ourselves to God and thereby empower Him (if I can speak in this human way) to take possession of us, to give himself to us. God is pure goodness; He is pure love. He does not impose himself upon us; love does not impose, love can only enter in where it is welcome. God needs my act of self-surrender. That act of self-surrender was captured so perfectly when God called Abraham, and he responded, “Here I am!”
We can see that this is what God was asking of Abraham when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son whom he loved. To continue the story, “Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and put it upon his son Isaac while he himself carried the fire and the knife.” Imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind as they walked together. Isaac was a smart Jewish boy. He made an astute observation when he said, “Father, you have the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust, my son,” and they went on together.
They arrived at the place God had specified. Abraham built the altar, put the wood on it, bound Isaac and laid him on the wood. He stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But an angel of the Lord called out to him saying, “Abraham, Abraham.” He answered, “Here I am!” The angel said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy, do nothing to him, I know now that you fear God since you did not withhold your only son from me.” Abraham caught the ram from the bushes and offered it instead.
A point to ponder: what God needed from Abraham was complete selflessness, completely being for God, for God’s sake. When He put Abraham to the test, He gave him the opportunity to have a most pure attitude toward Him. TP
Father Blessin, S.J., writes from Murray-Weigel Hall at Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y.