Today we read a story that can chill oneâs soul, especially a parentâs. However, if we focus only on the topic of parent and child, and the emotional and precious quality of that relationship, we lose the profound heart of what the story of Abraham and Isaac is really about.
The Book of Genesis contains the Abraham cycle, a group of stories between chapters 12-22 about Abrahamâs call, journey, and relationship with God. The entire cycle is worth reading at one sitting. It takes us into a life that seems hopeless, is filled with promise, results in a journey that is full of dangers and Abrahamâs folly â at one point he betrays Sarah rather than admit to Pharaoh that she is his wife â and concludes with this monumental account of a genuine test, one in which even God does not know the outcome.
The entire cycle of Abraham stories is about a covenant. Early on, God chose Abraham. The question is, will Abraham choose God? And that is the elemental question facing each of us. God chose us, long ago. Yet, like the psalmist in todayâs psalm, we often ask, âHow long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?â
God still challenges us as God challenged Abraham. Everyday we are beset with perplexing questions: Why do natural disasters kill so many people? Why are hatred and terrorism such dire threats in our world? Why are economic forces beyond our control forcing us to cut back, go without, or cause others to lose jobs and be hungry? These may not be as personalized as Abrahamâs test with Isaac, but they are tests nevertheless. And God does want to know where we stand. God has chosen us. Will we choose God?
Today in the church calendar is the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, but it is transferred to tomorrow, since Sundayâs lectionary takes precedence. These two apostles are examples to us of people who chose God, despite adversity in their lives. Peter, having denied Jesus three times, now becomes the articulate preacher proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Paul, who had persecuted Christians with great rigor, now confesses Jesus as Lord and goes to the ends of the known world to proclaim the Good News. God chose these people; and in the end they chose him. A covenant bond existed between them, a bond so strong that nothing â not persecution, prison, shipwreck â could break it.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is the conclusion of a great story about ordinary people invited by God to do extraordinary things in Godâs plan. It seems the invitation always comes with a test: will those invited say yes?
Now, a word about todayâs Gospel from Matthew. Anyone, it seems, can be welcoming. But righteous people who welcome are the ones in whom God is interested. Righteous people are the ones who give cold water, not out of duty, or because itâs fairly easy, but because they truly love God who gives us all things. Jesus has been teaching us this all through the readings from Matthew this month. Righteous people are not âholier than thou.â They are people in a covenant relationship with God. They are tested, and they have said yes, often many times.
In Jerusalem there is a memorial park to remember non-Jews who protected and helped Jews to escape the Holocaust. Each person is remembered with a tree and plaque. They are sometimes called the Righteous Ones. That is because, chosen by God, they said yes, even when they knew they might lose their lives by doing so. They knew, as Abraham did, that God always keeps promises.
How is God testing you? God has already chosen you. Now God wants to know, will you choose God?