For the last week or so at Mass we’ve listened to some beautiful readings about Abraham “our father in faith” from the Book of Genesis. Abraham teaches us what it means to believe.
First perhaps, we learn from him that faith is a gift of God, who approaches us. “The Lord said to Abram: ‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land I will show you.’”
It’s God who gives us the power to believe and calls us to go from what we know to the unknown, to a blessed land God will show us. It’s not a land we find, but a land God shows us. To get to that blessed land, we have to leave the land of our kinsfolk and our father’s house. Faith is God’s gift, a blessing and a challenge.
Today’s reading (Genesis 22,1-19) is about the challenge of faith. “God put Abraham to the test,” it begins. In the greatest test of his faith, Abraham must take his son, Isaac, “your only one, whom you love,” and go up a high mountain and “offer him up as a burnt offering.”
We see intimations of the Passion of Jesus in the story: “the high mountain… the only son, whom you love.” Approaching the mountain, Abraham takes “the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders.” “God will provide the sheep.” Abraham tells Isaac. He builds an altar and arranges the wood. “Next he ties up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar.” All suggests the Passion of Jesus.
But when he takes his knife, God stops him. “I know how devoted you are. You did not withhold from me your beloved son.” And God blesses him. “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea.”
The Letter to the Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.’ He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead and he received Isaac back as a symbol.” (Hebrews 11,18-19)
“He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead.” Certainly Abraham was weighed down by sadness and the cruelty of it all; he was not a dumb executioner, immune to what he was to do, but “he reasoned,” he believed deep within that God was a God of life. Like Jesus, Abraham was afraid and sad even to death, but he believed in God, a God of love and promise. Like Jesus, he would say “Not my will, but yours be done.”
We ask for that kind of faith.