When I was young, if anyone ever defined the word sacrifice as to make holy I missed that lesson. It always denoted something I was supposed to give up, something difficult. In religion class I learned that it did involve God and adding that component made me more willing to do it but it was still hard. And then, I guess, I came to know that if I did all those hard things, I would get to be holy but I didn’t understand that it wasn’t the thing I gave up but the willingness to do the giving that would transform me.
This morning we have the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac as a sign of his fidelity to God. (Genesis 22). There are many things in the Hebrew Scriptures that were part of that era and culture that do not, thankfully, exist in ours. Human sacrifice is one of those. In the end it was Abraham’s willingness that God wanted; that’s what effected his holiness. The covenant (that contract of loving fidelity) that God had made with him was so sacred to Abraham that everything in his life flowed from it. We could wonder at God’s purpose in the story today – or of how Abraham could possibly have been ready to kill his beloved son…I would never presume to explain either except to say that the God I know today would not ask such a thing or that perhaps the story was a metaphor for the lesson of willingness. My point in even considering it is to reflect on my willingness to put myself at God’s service, confident that God’s love is strong enough to see me through the most difficult events, and that holiness is the wholeness that will be the result.