A Long Walk HomePosted: June 29, 2014
A Long Walk Home
SLIDE 3: SACRIFICE OF ISAAC
Three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam identify the story of the “Sacrifice of Abraham’s Son” as a pivotal passage of scripture. Judaism celebrates the “Sacrifice of Isaac” as the end of human sacrifice in Hebrew religion.
SLIDE 4: SACRIFICE OF ISHMAEL
In Islam the story is the “Sacrifice of Ishmael,” Abraham’s other son, and it is celebrated as the basis for the end of human sacrifice on the Arabian Peninsula.”
SLIDE 5: SACRIFICE OF THE LAMB OF GOD
Christianity has focused on the “Sacrifice of Isaac,” as the archetype for the crucifixion of Jesus, the sacrifice of the innocent lamb who then provides atonement for the sins of others. This example of Jesus as the Passover lamb became the basis for the cult of substitutionary atonement in Christian faith.
SLIDE 6: CARAVAGGIO 1598
Rabbi Jeffery Ballon was fascinated by the “Sacrifice of Isaac.” There are almost as many paintings of this theme as pictures of the crucifixion. Each image has a slightly different interpretation of the event. I particularly remember Jeffery’s discourse on two famous paintings of the event by Caravaggio. In the first painting in 1598 Isaac seems almost unafraid as the angel offers Abraham the ram to sacrifice instead of his son.
SLIDE 7: CARAVAGGIO 1603
But in Caravaggio’s rendition of the scene in 1603 Isaac is afraid and in pain, and the angel literally must restrain Abraham’s hand in order to save the life of the lad. We can only wonder what changed in the life of the painter to produce such a different interpretation of the event.
SLIDE 8: PROPHETIC ADMONITIONS AGAINST SACRIFICE
The 22nd Chapter of Genesis is a pivotal story for three faiths. Many Jews and Christians have believed that Genesis chapter 22 marked the end of human sacrifice in the Hebrew tradition. The ritual killing of humans, however, persisted among the Hebrews until about 600 BCE when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were taken as captives to Babylon. Periodically under the influence of the prophets, especially during the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah serious efforts were made to end human sacrifice. In our call to worship this morning the Prophet Micah provided an eloquent admonition about all forms of sacrifice: Micah 6: 6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 God has showed you, O people, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
SLIDE 9: ALL SACRIFICES ENDED WITH DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE
Judaism finally completely escaped from the cult of sacrifice in 70 A.D., when the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. With the priestly families sent into exile, the Rabbis became the effective leaders of the Jewish faith, and they focused upon the keeping of the law, rather than animal sacrifice as the primary practice of Judaism.
SLIDE 10: SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT
The development of the Christian faith was also impacted by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Letter to the Hebrews initially thought to be from Paul created a new mythology of sacrifice. The Risen Christ became the great High Priest making sacrifice in the Heavenly Temple as atonement for the sins of all those who were counted as followers of Jesus. Later the Catholic Church developed a theology of liturgy in which the Mass became the re-enactment of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that provided substitutionary atonement for all those receiving the bread and the wine the body and blood of Christ in the mass. Fundamentalist Southern Christianity has especially bought into substitutionary atonement emphasizing the importance of being washed in the blood.
SLIDE 11: MOHAMMED ENDS HUMAN SACRIFICE IN ARABIA
Human sacrifice was practiced among the Arabian tribes up until the time they were converted to Islam by Mohammed about 620 A.D. The Quran is ambiguous about which son Abraham was commanded to offer to God, but in most of Islam Ishmael is believed to be the son of sacrifice. In Islam, rather than emphasizing the faithfulness of Abraham in offering his son, Islamic Midrash emphasizes the willingness and obedience of Ishmael in offering himself as the sacrifice. Islam emphasizes obedience to God’s will rather than finding grace through faith.
SLIDE 12: A GOD WHO REQUIRES SACRIFICE PASSES AROUND THE KOOL AID.
No matter whether we are Jewish, Christian or Muslim we are confronted with the question did God really ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? What kind of God would ask for a human sacrifice? Even if it was just a test, what kind of God would test people by asking them to kill a child? And what kind of human being would seriously contemplate the killing of a child, especially their own child? A God that requires human sacrifice will eventually pass out the Kool Aid.
SLIDE 13: THE VOICES THAT DROVE ABRAHAM WERE HIS OWN
To bring sanity back to religion we have to be willing to acknowledge that the voices that drove Abraham to even contemplate the killing of his son, were his own internal voices of doubt and his desire for certainty and power. God is never as plain as the noses on our faces. We are always left with the prayer of the father of the epileptic boy: “I believe, but help my unbelief.” Jesus never demanded perfect faith. And rather than trying to prove how faithful we are, we need to share faith by nurturing other people’s doubts. Our God is not a monster that demands sacrifices, rather we walk the path of the God of Micah: “What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
SLIDE 14: DAD WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
For me the best way to put the story of the sacrifice of Isaac in perspective is to try to imagine the long walk home after the event. “Dad, what were you thinking? You were holding a knife to my throat.”
“Ah, gee son, I thought God said he wanted me to kill you as an offering of my faith, love and devotion.”
“Do you believe every voice you hear in your head?”
SLIDE 15: SARAH AND ABRAHAM SPLIT OVER THE SACRIFICE
According to Jewish Midrash the excrement really hit the fan, when Abraham got home. What was he supposed to tell Sarah? Some of the Rabbis have pointed out that according to the end of Genesis Chapter 22 Abraham is reported to be living in Beersheba with a couple of concubines, while Sarah is reported at the beginning of Chapter 23 to be living in Hebron. So the Rabbis have concluded the attempted sacrifice of Isaac drove a wedge between Abraham and Sarah.
SLIDE 16: WE ARE ALL SCARRED BY CHILDHOOD
We can also note that Isaac never quite recovered from the experience. Of the three great Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Isaac was clearly the lesser of the three. No great accomplishments are reported for him. His wife Rebecca has more insight into the Covenant of the Promise than he. Blind both physically and spiritually Isaac would have given the blessing to his beloved dumb bell Esau, if Rebecca had not intervened to steal the blessing for Jacob.
SLIDE 17: AS DYSFUNCTIONAL AS OUR FAMILIES
One reason we love the Book of Genesis is because all of the families are just as dysfunctional as our own. Abraham fathered a son, Ishmael, with his wife’s slave girl, and then sent them both away. Then listening to the voices in his own head Abraham nearly killed the child of promise. Isaac had twin boys, but he was so spiritually blind he favored the son who was so stupid and impulsive he traded his birthright for a pot of lentil stew. Jacob fathered twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel, but his favoritism toward Joseph was nearly the undoing of the whole family. If God had not intervened, sending Joseph to Egypt they all would have perished in the great famine.
SLIDE 18: MANY OF US ARE WALKING WITH ABRAHAM AND ISAAC
And so as we think about Abraham and Isaac on that long walk home, I sort of imagine many of us are walking with them. As parents we often sacrifice our children to our own ego needs and our own aspirations. We don’t intend to hurt our children. It just happens, when we aren’t looking. As children many of us are still among the emotionally walking wounded. We managed to grow up, but somewhere deep inside we still bear the wounds that won’t heal and the scars of familial conflict.
SLIDE 19: GOD FORGIVES AND WELCOMES US HOME
Most of the time like Abraham our parents meant well. Those of us who are parents know how easy it is to hear the voices inside our own heads and mistake them for instructions from the gods. When we play children’s games we often claim the right of “do over.” As children and then again as parents we learn that there are very few “do overs” in life. And so we limp toward home, having felt the knife edge at our throats, scared beyond belief, or we thank God the angel restrained our hand, and maybe sometimes we regret the angel was too slow or the knife slipped and we find ourselves walking alone. God does not want sacrifice. God wants principled behavior. And God forgives. As much as we mess up. As dysfunctional as our family lives maybe. God forgives and welcomes us home.
SLIDE 20: DO JUSTICE, LOVE KINDNESS, WALK HUMBLY
So as I walk toward home I remember the words of Micah. Micah 6: 6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 God has showed you, O people, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!