Second Sunday of Lent – Year B
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Feb 25 2018
I think we can find it difficult to understand the story of the sacrifice if Isaac. We wonder, “how could Abraham be willing to sacrifice his own son? How could cod ask for such a thing?” I think that to at least begin to understand the story of the sacrifice of Isaac we first need to first understand the nature of sacrifice.
The people of Israel were a people of sacrifice. They had a temple and at that temple they would offer sacrifices to God. The sacrifice would be placed on the altar and burned, and the smoke going up to heaven was a sign of their sacrifice going up to God. They had a sacrifice for everything. If you were a farmer you sacrificed your first fruits of grain or grapes. If you were a shepherd you sacrificed your firstborn sheep, and the same with cows and oxen. They had sacrifices if you had committed a sin called a sin offering, they had sacrifices for when something good happened, called a thanksgiving sacrifice.
They burned incense, and lit candles, all as a sacrifice to God. And why did they make so many sacrifices, because God asked them too. It was a prat of the law that God had given them that regulated the sacrifices and when they needed to be made.
But why would God do such a thing. God has need of our grain and wheat, sheep and oxen. He is God, eternally perfect, eternally self-sufficient. So God is not actually benefiting form any of these sacrifices. That is true, God gained nothing form these sacrifices, but the people gained everything. You see, God knew that the only way for his children to be happy was to be in a proper relationship with him, that means to love him above all things. And only if God was in the proper place in their lives would everything else be good as well. The problem is that other things always competed for the highest place in Israel’s life. Food and drink, material wealth and security. At times these things became more important than God. So God chose as the antidote sacrifice.
Imagine a young couple who are in love, lying in a filed looking up at the blue ski. The girl asks the boy, do you love me. He says, “of course I love you?” She says, “do you love me more than your car”. “of course I love you more than my car” he says. “Do you love me more than your house” She asks. “of course I love you more than my house.” He says. “do you love me more than anything you own.” Finally he responds, “ I love you a hundred times more than all of these things.” She says, “good, then you wont mind if I have them do you? I mean you love me most right?.
That girl is asking her boyfriend to put his money where is mouth is. If he actually loves her above all his material things than he should care if he becomes poor as long as he has her. Well God does something simler when he askes his people for sacrifice. He asks them do you love me above all things? And when they say “yes”, he says, “Ok prove it give it to me”. Its not because God actually wants it, rather he wants our love, and we show it by giving him the things we should love less.
Now there is one time and one time only that God ever asked for a human sacrifice, and that is the story of Abraham and Isaac. I think the reason why God only did this once was first to show that he was not like the other gods of the time who regularly demanded human sacrifices. He was different he did not want that and he showed that when in the end he stopped Abraham showing that it was only a test.
But I think another reason why God only did this once was he knew that after God, our family was and should be the closes thing to our heart. In the ten commandment, after the commandments regarding love of God, the first that regard love of neighbour starts with the family. Honour your mother and father. So God wanted to make sure that even though he should be the highest thing in our life, family should still be next in line. And so only once did he ask Abraham to sacrifice his son. Only once did he ask Abraham, do you love me above all things, only once did he test Abrahams love and find that it was pure.
Now we are still in the beginnings of the season of lent. A season where we give things up. But unlike new year’s resolutions where we change for the sake of self-improvement, our sacrifices in lent are purely for the love of God. We like Israel, put our money where our mouth is when we tell God I love you above all these things. And while you shouldn’t give up your first born son, the point that God is making is that we should give up things that are creeping into his place.
Things that are becoming our number one love when God should be. And we know there are things like that in our life. Things that we think about too much, things that we couldn’t possibly live without, and even things, that when push comes to shove I don’t know if I would choose God or it. Those are the things we need to give up this lent. Those are the things that we need to sacrifice to God. And in doing so we will but them in their place, and put God in his proper place, and we know that a life lived with God at the top will be more blessed than any other.