Gen. 22: 1-2, 10-13, 15-18; Rom. 8:31b-34; Mk.9:2-10
In the first reading, Abraham’s willing attempt to sacrifice his son is a pivotal story in the Jewish understanding of itself as God’s chosen people. It is tied to God sacrificing his son as the pivotal story of Christian self-understanding.
The ancient fear of vengeful gods led to the sacrifice of their most prized possession- children. Jews understood themselves as loved by God. The gift of children was celebrated as a sign of blessing. The obedience and faithfulness of Abraham is severely tested when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. God is calling Abraham to an almost unimaginable trust.
Yet being a father with only a son, Abraham’s story makes me uncomfortable. This discomfort hit me, last month, as I visited parents of five children sacrificed to violence on the streets. No parent should bury a child, but it happens too often. Looking into the eyes of the parents, spouses, and siblings is to enter into their pain and it makes me wonder how Abraham felt in the necessity of sacrificing his son to appease his God? Fortunately, Abraham’s understanding takes on an important meaning for us, that we are loved by God and do not need to be afraid.
In today’s Gospel, the God of Abraham says to Peter, James and John, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mk 9:7). This is the second time God speaks in Mark’s Gospel. The first time (Mk 1:11), God says to Jesus, “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God is revealed first to the son, then to the son’s followers, and lastly Mark reveals Jesus to us with the message, “Listen to him.”
In Romans Paul writes, “If God is with us who can be against us.” Paul writes this to encourage a Christian minority who faced discrimination, hostility, and danger. It was hard to remain faithful for the earliest Christians, but the belief that God was with them gave them hope. In discovering that God is with us, we do not need to fear death or even with the loss of a child, hope can still be found.
Hope can be found, but as my friends can attest, the pain runs deep. Years ago a mother invited me into her home after her son’s murder. She asked me to bring her son back. When I said that I couldn’t, she responded, “What good are you?” I took on her anger and when we prayed, she wept. We became good friends and I was also there when a second child was killed a year or so later. She has since passed, but she found a way to carry on with her faith.
To the families of those who have been sacrificed to the violence of the streets, God’s intercession is not always in the way desired. Yet many of these families still place their trust in Jesus.
For me, it is to do my best to “Listen to him.”