Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Romans 8:31b-34

As I noted in an earlier post, this past week found me with a very tightly packed schedule. This is the first chance I've had to prepare my homily for posting here. The video below is well worth the eight minutes it takes to view it. It's a segment of The Sway Machinery's live performance of Hidden Melodies Revealed featuring the animated film The Akeidah directed by Shawn Atkins with puppetry designed by Paul Andrejco. (Akeidah is Hebrew for "the binding" and refers to Abraham's binding Isaac as the offering to be sacrificed.)

That story about God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac?
I’ve never heard anyone say, “Hey, I really like that passage!”
In fact, it’s a story that, if anything, tends to frustrate and anger people.
“How could God ever ask a father to do such a thing?”
“How could a father even think of complying with such a request?”

How, indeed?

This story is very dramatic.
And when something is this dramatic in the scriptures,
it’s usually a good thing to see what the drama’s all about.
The key to this passage comes with the divine intervention
and the staying of Abraham’s hand when the messenger says,
“I know how devoted you are to God since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

The lesson of this story runs much deeper
than God’s seemingly scandalous request
and Abraham’s apparent disregard for his son’s welfare.
It’s all about the question of how important God is in our lives.

This story asks the very hard question:
“Is God the most important reality in your life
or is someone or something else,
anyone or anything else, more important?”

Is that a fair question?
Well, it appears as one until you introduce the terms
by which an answer must be given.

It’s easy to say God’s the greatest reality in our lives
until a son or a daughter goes off to war, never to return…

It’s easy to say God’s the greatest reality in our lives
until someone too young, or too good, or too important to us
becomes seriously ill and dies,
or is seriously handicapped for life…

It’s easy to say God’s the greatest reality in our lives
until the one thing we’ve hoped and prayed for most earnestly
appears to be something we may never receive…

The story of Abraham and Isaac pushes to the limit
what we say about who God is in our lives.
It’s one thing to concede that God allows awful things to befall us.
It’s another thing altogether to see God enlisting Abraham
as the agent of the terrible deed.

The drama forces the question.

Tragedy on its own merits can easily warp our image of God
and turn upside down our expectations of how God will act.

It’s a curious thing when we Christians, followers of Jesus,
are taken aback by the suffering of the innocent.
We walk in the footsteps of the one we call the Crucified.
We wear his Cross around our necks.
We worship at the foot of the sign of his sacrifice.
We name him God’s only begotten, beloved Son
and yet it was his Father who allowed him, the Innocent,
as the sacrifice for us, the guilty,
that we might find pardon for our sins.

As St. Paul wrote to us today,
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us everything else along with him?

Were we to ask God,
“Who has the greatest claim on your love?”
God’s answer would be, “You do…”
And the Cross is the proof of the truth of that answer.

If we profess that God is the greatest reality in our lives,
we need not worry that God will not come and ask us
to sacrifice our children on fiery altars.
But if we profess that God is the greatest reality in our lives,
that will have a great impact on how we raise our children,
on how we love our spouses,
on how we reach out to those in need,
on how we determine our politics,
on how we run our businesses,
and on how we prioritize our lives…

If we, like Abraham, name God above all else
that will not lead to tragedy,
but it will lead to deeper, sacrificial love on our part
for those entrusted to us.

Naming God as the most important reality in our lives
will lead us to work for justice for the poor,
to seek truth in our daily lives
and to hope for a life greater than anything we now imagine.

As we prayed when we sang the psalm today:
Your love, O God, is finer than life itself…

We know this very kind of love
when we know that we would lay down our lives
for a spouse, for a child, for a friend…
for a stranger in dire need, within our grasp…
for fellow citizens, known and unknown, in military service…

We know in our hearts a love that values the beloved
more than life itself.
The story of Abraham and Isaac asks
if we will love God in the same way…

We go now to the table of Jesus
who, like his Father, named us as those he loved above all,
and who gave his life into our hands,
that we might have life and have it to the full.

Come and be nourished by the love to which we are called,
the love by which we are redeemed.



  1. Once I was going through a particularly angry period with God. It was due to circumastances happening that I "could not believe he would let go on".

    A friend of mine put it in perspective. She said, if you were walking down the street next your son and he tripped on a crack and the sidewalk, fell, and split his knee..would that be your fault? Would you be the one who caused it? Of course, I said "no"

    Then she said, "but you would help him up, clean the cut, and assist him with walking the rest of the way home, right?" I grudgingly said "Yes".

    I know God loves me. I know no matter what sacrifices I am forced to make, what tragedies that are unbearable to face, news stories too painful to watch, natural disasters that are excrutiating to hear about ...he is still there loving me through it and hopefully moving me to act. Things have become much easier since I learned to have faith in this.

  2. CP, yours is a very noble wrestling with perhaps the most difficult of all passages in the Hebrew Scriptures. And I thank you for your reflections.

    While I find comforting your statement "We know this very kind of love when we know that we would lay down our lives for a spouse, for a child, for a friend…for a stranger in dire need, within our grasp…for fellow citizens, known and unknown, in military service…" I am still troubled that in the Akeida, God does not ask Abraham to sacrifice himself, but to sacrifice his (and I might add --Sarah's) son.

    Every year when I prepare myself for the Paschal Vigil's Liturgy of Word, I cannot help but wonder, why was Sarah not consulted in this terrifying test? Was she not included in the promise (Gen 21:1)? I cannot imagine what she had to say to Abraham and God once she learned what transpired on that mountain!! There is no doubt in my mind, Sarah's faith in God also was tested!

    Symbolically, the parallelism of the Abraham's binding of Isaac with God's sacrificing His own son helps me with come to grips with this terrifying passage. But Jesus had a say in his fate, did Isaac have a say in Akeida? The great sage, Rashi, suggested that Abraham's oblique response to Isaac's inquiry about the sheep for the sacrifice was Abraham's attempt to include his son in the test. And that BOTH accepted God's command in obedience.

    Though Rashi's midrashic account does not satisfy my questions about Sarah, it does help me better accept the parrallelism between the Akeida and the Passion of our Lord.

    I would be grateful if anyone could point me to some midrash or other reflection dealing with the hidden test of Sarah.

    As always, CP, I am grateful for your insights on the Scripture and life.

  3. Great homily, your right, this is a very difficult passage to swallow.


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