Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons
2nd Sunday of Lent | February 28/March 1, 2015
PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the readings here. This homily is based on the first reading.
I don’t know about you, but I used to find the 1st reading really difficult to hear.
I would find myself asking some troubling questions. Questions like…
What kind of God asks for people to sacrifice their own children?
Couldn’t God have found another way to test Abraham’s faithfulness? One in which the stakes were not so high?
And somehow, I could never quite find a satisfactory answer.
Until I arrived in seminary and one of my professors decided to explain this passage to me.
See in the ancient world, many polytheistic religions demanded child sacrifice as part of their religious devotions.
Surrounded by this influence, Jewish families were beginning to act like their neighbors. They too would offer up their own children on foreign altars. So when YHWH makes this demand, many Jews did not even bat an eye.
But the author of Genesis had a trick up his sleeve. YHWH would ultimately forbid the sacrifice of Isaac. And with that reprieve, the author was reminding the chosen people of a truth that was being forgotten. That Yahweh, the God of their mothers and fathers, would never demand that they sacrifice their children on any altar. For the Jewish people, this reprieve was as unsettling to them as the initial request may be to us.
Yes my friends, thousands of years have passed since the time of Abraham and Isaac, but I can’t help but think that the lesson of this reading remains just as relevant for us today.
We may not be pagans engaged in ritual sacrifice, but I am convinced that we too continue to sacrifice our children on foreign altars.
We sacrifice our children on the altar of our own ambition. We skip their school plays and miss their practices. We keep putting off their requests for one more bedtime story, for one game of hide and go seek. We barely acknowledge our teenage son sitting across the table as we hurriedly scan the e-mails that are always waiting on the other side of our smartphones and tablets.
We sacrifice our children on the altar of our own anger. We lose our temper and utter words that can never be taken back. We lose control over spilled milk and broken china, stains on the rug and holes in the wall, lack of gas in the tank and charges on the credit card. We find ourselves taking out our rage in shouts and slammed doors, in fists and slaps.
We sacrifice our children on the altar of perfectionism. We push our children to be perfect, scrutinizing every B, every wrong note, every missed shot. Convincing them that love can only be found in achieving, in succeeding, in being perfect. Dangling out our love as if it were a rare commodity that only a privileged few have access to.
We stand by and helplessly watch as our children are sacrificed on the altars of violence, poverty and despair. We bury our young people slain by bullets in our streets, needles in our basements, and pills in our bedrooms. We hear the cries of children whose innocence is forever ripped away by the grasping hands of someone who should have known better. We look into the eyes of children whose joy is drained away with every slice of the razor blade, with every purged meal, with every frigid night spent out in the cold.
And like the Jewish people of old, we too must heed the voice of God that speaks to us this day. The voice that shouts into the void. . .
Do not harm the child.
For this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.
For this is my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.
I have chosen her, I have chosen him, I have chosen you to be my own.
I do not ask for you or your children as sacrifice.
What I ask for is obedience.
To obey . . . The same root word as to hear.
Maybe this first reading is a reminder that what is truly important is not sacrifice, but listening.
Listening to the word of God that calls us to live differently.
That calls us to be a voice for the voiceless in our midst. The children who rest upon our altars.
To be their safe haven, their rock of refuge.
To be their advocate, their guidepost, their strength.
To be their healing and their comfort.
To loose their bonds and set them free. . .
Free to be children. Free to make mistakes and explore the world.
Free to laugh and free to cry.
Free to dream and free to love.
And in so doing, we too may just encounter Christ and be transformed.
May God be Praised