Archive for the ‘Genesis 22’ Category

Arguing Faithfully With God, Part II   1 comment

sacrifice-of-isaac-caravaggio

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death

to be for us the means on life.

Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer shame and loss

for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 21:1-7 (Monday)

Genesis 22:1-19 (Tuesday)

Psalm 105:1-11, 37-45 (Both Days)

Hebrews 1:8-12 (Monday)

Hebrews 11:1-3, 13-19 (Tuesday)

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For he remembered his holy word

and Abraham, his servant.

–Psalm 105:42, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The New Testament defines faith three ways, for that anthology is the product of more than one writer.  Faith, in the Pauline sense, is inherently active, hence justification by grace.  Yet, in the Letter of James, faith is intellectual, hence that book’s theology of justification by works.  Those two schools of thought affirm active faith, so they are two ways of making the same point.  Then there is faith according to Hebrews 11:1:

Now faith is the assurance of things not hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Faith, according to this definition, which overlaps with the Pauline meaning, keeps one going in the absence of evidence in support of or in contradiction to a proposition.

Abraham, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, was an exemplar of that kind of faith.  As we have read in Genesis in this lectionary-based series of devotions, this was not always true.  (The author of Hebrews glossed over some content from Genesis.)  And I argue that, in Genesis 22, the patriarch failed the test of faith, for the faithful response was to argue.

Did I hear you correctly?  Do you want me kill my own son?  Have I not sacrificed Ishmael already by sending him away with Hagar?  What kind of God commands me to kill my son?

The near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham must have caused psychological damage to the son (how could it not?), for he became a passive, minor figure and the least of the patriarchs.

My favorite aspect of Judaism is arguing faithfully with God.  In Islam one is supposed to submit to God, but Jews get to confront the deity in good conscience.  This ethic is evident in the Psalms, with frequent complaints to God.  I recall, decades ago, reading a review of a translation of the Psalms.  The new translation avoided King James-style politeness, as in

Lord, I beseech thee,

preferring

Look, Yahweh.

The review, from a Christian magazine, was favorable.  I have kvetched to God with great honesty often.  Is not honesty essential to any healthy relationship?

Pondering the art of faithful arguing led me to remember an incident from the Gospels.  The four Gospels are wonderful texts, but they lack any description of tone of voice at some crucial points in the narratives.  Tone of voice, of course, can change the meaning of dialogue.  In Matthew 15, for example, Jesus was in Gentile country–the region of Tyre and Sidon.  There a Gentile woman begged our Lord and Savior to heal her daughter.  He replied,

It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.

–15:26, The Revised English Bible (1989)

She answered,

True, sir, and yet the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the master’s table.

–15:27, REB

Jesus replied,

What faith you have!  Let it be as you wish.

–15:28a, REB

The context if that story tells me that Jesus said what he did to prompt her to reply as she did.  She passed the test.  All she had to do was argue.  Isaac would have been better off had Abraham been as faithful as that Gentile woman.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF MARTIN RINCKART, ARCHDEACON OF EILENBURG

THE FEAST OF RICHARD BAXTER, ANGLICAN THEOLOGIAN

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Embrace This Mystery   1 comment

st-martin-in-the-fields-atlanta-april-7-2012

Above:  St. Martin in the Fields Episcopal Church, Atlanta, Georgia, April 7, 2012

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

(https://picasaweb.google.com/114749828757741527421/EasterVigilStMartins03#5729164819712558994)

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THE GREAT VIGIL OF EASTER, YEAR C

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READINGS AT THE LITURGY OF THE WORD

(Read at least two,)

(1) Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

(2) Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 and Psalm 46

(3) Genesis 22:1-18 and Psalm 16

(4) Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 and Canticle 8, page 85, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

(5) Isaiah 55:1-11 and Canticle 9, page 86, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

(6) Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 and Psalm 19

(7) Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Psalms 42 and 43

(8) Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 143

(9) Zephaniah 3:12-20 and Psalm 98

DECLARATION OF EASTER

The Collect:

Almighty God, who for our redemption gave your only- begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. or this O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

READINGS AT THE FIRST HOLY EUCHARIST OF EASTER

Romans 6:3-11

Psalm 114

Luke 24:1-12

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Some Related Posts:

Great Vigil of Easter,Year A:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/great-vigil-of-easter-year-a/

Great Vigil of Easter, Year B:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/great-vigil-of-easter-year-b/

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My custom regarding posts for the Easter Vigil is to list the manifold and myriad readings (most of which are optional) and to offer a brief reflection.  Consistent with that practice I invite you, O reader, to approach the question of divine power, which gave us the Resurrection, with awe, wonder, reverence, and praise.  The Resurrection of Jesus is a matter of theology; historical methods cannot analyze it properly.  I am a trained historian, so far be it from me to criticize methods which work well most of that time.  But I am also a Christian, and I recognize the existence of mysteries beyond the bounds of historical scrutiny.  Life is better with some mysteries than without them.  So I invite you, O reader, to embrace this mystery.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/great-vigil-of-easter-year-c/

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Genesis and Mark, Part XIII: Arguing for Compassionate Deeds   1 comment

sacrifice-of-isaac-caravaggio

Above:  The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 22:1-19 (13th Day of Lent)

Genesis 24:1-31 (14th Day of Lent)

Psalm 5 (Morning–13th Day of Lent)

Psalm 38 (Morning–14th Day of Lent)

Psalms 27 and 51 (Evening–13th Day of Lent)

Psalms 126 and 102 (Evening–14th Day of Lent)

Mark 7:1-23 (13th Day of Lent)

Mark 7:24-37 (14th Day of Lent)

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Some Related Posts:

Genesis 22:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/proper-8-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/week-of-proper-8-thursday-year-1/

Genesis 24:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/week-of-proper-8-friday-year-1/

Mark 7:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/week-of-5-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/week-of-5-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/week-of-5-epiphany-thursday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/week-of-5-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/proper-17-year-b-3/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/proper-18-year-b/

Behind the Lines, a.k.a. Regeneration (1997):

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/behind-the-lines-a-k-a-regeneration-1997/

Prayers:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/prayer-for-wednesday-in-the-second-week-of-lent/

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/prayer-for-thursday-in-the-second-week-of-lent/

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What can I say or write about the near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 without repeating myself?  Nothing! I refuse to make apologies for it.  There is no record in Genesis that father and son spoke again after that incident.  They must have had conversations afterward, but Isaac’s relationship to Abraham must not have been the same as before.  How could it have been?  Really, O reader, if you were Isaac, how much would you want to say to your old man after such an incident?

One traditional lesson drawn from Genesis 22 is that God does not desire human sacrifice.  And narrative praises Abraham for his faithfulness.  Really?  But should not Abraham have pleaded for the life of his son?  He begged God to save the lives of strangers in Genesis 18:22-33.  Sometimes we are supposed to argue; sometimes that constitutes passing the test of faithfulness.  The Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30 passed the test with flying colors.

Abraham apparently loved his son and sought a wife for him in Genesis 24.  The patriarch was not a villain, but his record as a parent was troublesome.  (What about his treatment of his first son?) But Abraham did take care of his second son–at least after trying to kill him.

Jesus, in Mark 7, presents a great lesson in several parts.

  1. Food does not make one unclean.
  2. Ritual purity–in this case, in the form of the ceremonial washing of pots–is irrelevant.
  3. Being a Gentile or a disabled person ought not to marginalize one.  (People with major disabilities and deformities were impure.  A blind man or a man with crushed genitals or a deformed arm could not serve as priest, according to the Law of Moses.  The Law of Moses did not anticipate the Americans with Disabilities Act.)
  4. No, bad attitudes and resulting sins of commission and/or omission made one unclean.
  5. All foods are clean.  (Mark 7:19)
  6. A Gentile woman impresses Jesus with her faith and debating skills.
  7. But manipulating the Law of Moses and interpretations thereof to the detriment of others does make one unclean.

The standard (once more) is compassion.  Any human tradition which contradicts it is wrong.

To point to such violations from long ago is easy, and does not cost one anything or cause one even the slightest discomfort.  So I invite you, O reader, to look around.  Consider your present reality.  Where are violations (considered respectable and proper) of compassion?  And will you argue with them?  What will that cost you?  What will not arguing with them cost you?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 15, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE FIRST U.S. PRESBYTERIAN BOOK OF COMMON WORSHIP, 1906

THE FEAST OF CAROLINE CHISHOLM, HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF PIRIPI TAUMATA-A-KURA, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/devotion-for-the-thirteenth-and-fourteenth-days-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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An Acceptable Sacrifice   1 comment

Above: The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio (lived 1571-1610)

(Note the anguish in Isaac’s face.)

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 22:1-19 (New Revised Standard Version):

After these things God tested Abraham.  He said to him,

Abraham!

And he said,

Here I am.

He said,

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown them.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away.  Then Abraham said to his young men,

Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.

Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the wood.  So the two of them walked on together.  Isaac said to his father Abraham,

Father!

And he said,

Here I am, my son.

He said,

The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

Abraham said,

God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.

So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order.  He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.  But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said,

Abraham, Abraham!

And he said,

Here I am.

He said,

Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its thorns.  Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place,

The LORD will provide;

as it is said to this day,

On the mount of LORD it shall be provided.

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham, a second time from heaven, and said,

By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.  And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.

So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham lived at Beersheba.

Psalm 13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

How long, O LORD?

will you forget me for ever?

how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,

and grief in my heart, day after day?

how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look upon me and answer me, O LORD, my God,

give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

4 Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”

and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I will trust in your mercy;

my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly;

I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Jeremiah 28:5-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD; and the prophet Jeremiah said,

Amen!  May the LORD do so; may the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles.  But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people.  The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms.  As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet.

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing;

from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.

For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever;

you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.

“I have made a covenant with my chosen one;

I have sworn an oath to David my servant;

‘I will establish your line for ever,

and preserve your throne for all generations.’”

15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout!

the walk, O LORD, in the light of your presence.

16 They rejoice daily in your Name;

they are jubilant in your righteousness.

17 For you are the glory of their strength,

and by your favor our might is exalted.

18 Truly, the LORD is our ruler;

the Holy One of Israel is our King.

SECOND READING

Romans 6:12-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  No longer present your members as sin to instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What then?  Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations.  For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you are now ashamed?  The end of those things is death.  But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.  The end is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 10:40-42 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus said,]

Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple–truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice,

but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

–Psalm 51:17-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer)

The story of the near killing of Isaac at the hand of his father disturbs me.  God does not command such emotional abuse.  Can you, O reader, imagine the lasting effect this had on Isaac?  I can only imagine the journey of father and son after the incident on Mt. Moriah.  Elie Wiesel, in a televised Bible study, noted that the Bible records no more conversations between Abraham and Isaac after this event.

Pay attention to the reading from Matthew:  Jesus encourages kind treatment of vulnerable and marginal people, including children.

Indeed, one lesson from Genesis 22 is that God does not desire child sacrifice, a custom many people in the region practiced during the time of Abraham.  My God concept comes from Jesus.  And I reject Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the idea that Jesus took my place on the cross.  Ante-Nicene Church Fathers proposed three theories of the Atonement, including Penal Substitution.  My understanding of the Atonement is closest to another one of these, the conquest of evil via the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus.  So I reject the propositions that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and that God sacrificed his Son.  If I did not reject these ideas, I would believe in Gangster God, who is not content except in bloodshed.

As Paul reminds the church at Rome, the death of Christ and his resurrection make possible the death to sin and the end of the overpowering power thereof.  So, through Jesus, we have eternal life.  Indeed, the definition of eternal life in John 17:3 is a relationship with God via Jesus.  Eternal life is in the present tense.  There is no eternity without God, so let us not confuse the concepts of eternal life and everlasting life.  Eternity has nothing to do with time, only quality.

Having eternal life in the present, what should we sacrifice to God?  Let us begin with everything that burdens and distresses us, as in Psalm 51.  It is also possible that we might have to sacrifice careers, relationships, and even life itself, as in the cases of martyrs.  So we ought to be prepared to sacrifice that which is most dear.  But, as Jesus said in the Gospel reading (Matthew 10:34-39) for Proper 7, Year A, we need to value nothing more than him.

The prophet Jeremiah valued fidelity to God above all else.  He suffered many deprivations and taunts.  The reading from Jeremiah is set in a time during which Zedekiah, King of Judah, was a Babylonian puppet and the Babylonians had already exiled many Jews.  The Kingdom of Judah was on its last legs.  Hananiah, a false prophet, prophesied that all would be well within two years  Jeremiah contradicted Hananiah, and history has proven the weeping prophet correct.  Sometimes, as Jeremiah said, the truth is uncomfortable.

So let us also sacrifice our desire for easy, happy, and deceptive answers.

May we die sin and be reborn into eternal life, and stay there.  Eternal life might require us to become sacrificial offerings and so to join the ranks of the martyrs of God.  If so, may we face this reality in faith.  Eternal life will require something of us; it does come at great expense to Jesus and ourselves.  The details of that price will vary from person to person, but this principle remains.  But this is the way to life in God, and its glories are wondrous.

God loves us.  So we ought to love God and each other, if we do not do so already.  In societal terms, we can begin to ceasing to sacrifice each other, metaphorically or otherwise.  We can extend simple kindnesses and great respect to each other; we can treat each other with dignity.  We might not like each other, but we can be civilized to each other.

We can be the face of Christ to one another.  May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 15, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PROXMIRE, UNITED STATES SENATOR

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/proper-8-year-a/

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Arguing with God   3 comments

Above: The Sacrifice of Isaac (1603 version), by Caravaggio

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Genesis 22:1-19 (An American Translation):

Some time after this [the covenant with Abimelech] God put Abraham to the test.

Abraham!

he said to him.

Here am I,

he said.

Take your son,

he said,

your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and there offer him as a burnt-offering on one of the hills which I shall designate to you.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and harnessing his ass, he took two of his servants with him and his son Isaac, and having cut wood for the burnt-offering, he started off for the sanctuary which God had designated to him.  On the third day, when Abraham raised his eyes, he saw the sanctuary in the distance.  So Abraham said to his servants,

Stay here with the ass, while I and the boy go yonder to perform our devotions, after which we shall return to you.

So Abraham took the wood for the burnt-offering and put on the back of his son Isaac, while he carried in his own hand the fire and the knife.  So the two of them went off together.

Father!

said Isaac to his father Abraham.

Yes, my son,

he responded.

Here are the fire and the wood,

he said,

but where is the sheep for a burnt-offering?

Abraham said,

God will provide himself with the sheep for a burnt-offering, my son.

Thereupon the two of them proceeded on their way together.

When they had arrived at the sanctuary which God had designated to him, Abraham built the altar there, arranged the wood, and binding his son Isaac, laid him on the altar on top of the wood.  But as Abraham put out his hand to grasp the knife to slay his son, the angel of the LORD called to him from the heavens,

Abraham, Abraham!

He replied,

Here I am.

He said,

Do not lay hands on the boy, do nothing of the sort to him; for I know now that you revere God, in that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

When Abraham raised his eyes, he saw behind him a ram caught in the brushwood by its horns!  So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt-offering in place of his son.  Then Abraham called the name of that sanctuary Yahweh-jireh, which today is interpreted as

At the hill of the LORD provision is made.

A second time the angel of the LORD called to Abraham from the heavens,

I swear by myself

–that is the oracle of the LORD–

that since you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and will surely make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky, or the sands of that are on the seashore, so that your descendants shall take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your descendants all the nations of the earth shall invoke blessings on one another–just because you have heeded my injunction.

Abraham then returned to his servants, and together they started off for Beersheba; and in Beersheba Abraham made his home.

Psalm 116:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

2 The cords of death entangled me;

the grip of the grave took hold of me;

O came to grief and sorrow.

3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD;

“O LORD, I pray you, save my life.”

Gracious is the LORD and righteous;

our God is full of compassion.

5 The LORD watches over the innocent;

I was brought very low, and he helped me.

Turn again to your rest, O my soul,

for the LORD has treated you well.

7 For you have rescued my life from death,

my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD

in the land of the living.

Matthew 9:1-8 (An American Translation):

So he [Jesus] got into the boat and crossed the sea, and returned to his own city.

Some people came bringing to him on a bed a man who was paralyzed.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic,

Courage, my son!  Your sins are forgiven.

Some of the scribes said to themselves,

This man is talking blasphemy!

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said,

Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?  For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”?  But would you know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.

Then he said to the paralytic,

Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!

And he got up and went home. And when the crowd saw it, they were filled with awe, and praised God for giving such power to men.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I attended Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, from 1993 to 1996.  During that time I belonged to and attended Christ Episcopal Church, across the street from the campus.  One year I attended the passion play at Park Avenue United Methodist Church.  The opening scene of “God Hath Provided the Lamb” was the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  The play reflected a traditional Christian interpretation of this horrible story, that of prefiguring the sacrifice of Jesus.  (The play also embraced Penal Substitutionary Atonement, another bad idea.)

Today, December 17, 2010, for the second time in a few days, I have typed out the entire text of Genesis 22:1-19.  The previous time I typed out the text according to the New Revised Standard Version for the Proper 8, Year A, Revised Common Lectionary post (http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/proper-8-year-a/).  This is one reading that rips out my heart every time.  How would you, O reader, feel if you were Isaac?  Abraham bargains with God for the lives of strangers in Genesis 18 yet never for that of his own flesh and blood.  The concept of obedience to God has that strong a hold over him.

Obviously, I reject the premise that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Only a sadistic deity would do such a thing, and my image of God comes from Jesus, love incarnate.

Once I heard a brief comparison of Islam and Judaism.  The chief value in Islam is submitting to God, but people argue with God in Judaism.  I like arguing with God.  And what better time is there to argue with God than in defense of a family member?  If the argument does nothing else, it might clear up any confusion:  “Did you, O God, really command me to sacrifice my son?”  The best way to get an answer to ask a question.

In Matthew 9:1-8 Jesus is back home in Capernaum, where some friends bring a paralyzed man to be healed.  A common belief at the time and place held that physical ailments had their origin in sin, so perhaps the paralyzed man believed this.  His condition might have been psychosomatic.  Jesus addresses both sides–the spiritual/psychological and the physical–and receives criticism from religiously orthodox people of the time and place.  Was Jesus committing blasphemy by forgiving sins?

I note that these critics focused on their narrow theological concerns, not the well-being of the paralyzed man.  Therein resided their wickedness.  They needed to care about people more than abstract theology.  They failed to understand that the best theology finds expression not only in words but in compassionate deeds as well.

In Matthew 9:1-8 we have an example of when arguing with God was inappropriate.  Lest we content ourselves with praising Jesus and condemning his critics, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:  Who are we in this story?  Are we so bound to our own traditions that, if, were we of a different time, place, and culture, we would probably defend traditions and propositions we reject today?  These are questions of personality and spiritual type.

I answer for myself, and for myself alone.  I do not know where I would have stood in relation to Jesus under such hypothetical circumstances.  I like to think that I would have followed him, but this is just a hope.  I suspect that I would have been agnostic at best and critical at worst, for I prefer certain traditions.

Knowing when to argue with God can be difficult.  May we choose wisely.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIA STEWART, EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB, FOUNDER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS, ORTHODOX DEACONESS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/week-of-proper-8-thursday-year-1/

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