2nd Sunday of Lent B - Homily 4

Homily 4 - 2015

Today’s Readings can be quite challenging readings, each in its own complementary way. The first Reading, particularly, is topical in the light of the media discussions about the suffering of children in detention, and the current Victorian Royal Commission dealing with domestic violence. For me the three Readings raise the question, What is God really like? Mark’s Gospel passage that we had last week presented Jesus going around Galilee, preaching the Good News of God. At least, as far as Jesus is concerned, God is totally, and only, Good News.

But how did Abraham see God? He clearly believed that God was directing him to kill his son Isaac as a sacrifice in God’s honour. And Abraham was prepared to do it! In fact, child sacrifice was common in that region in Abraham’s time, and continued to be practised there for centuries afterwards. But to see God as demanding child sacrifice is to make God a monster. Of course, we know the end of the story. God was only testing him; and an animal sacrifice would do. Does that let God off the hook?

What sort of God would demand the slaughter of animals as a way to honour him – since even animal sacrifice puts violence and cruelty deep in the heart of God? If violence and cruelty are acceptable practice for God, then they can also be good enough for us. Even the Church for a long time did not baulk at that. The Inquisition is a scandalous case in point; as were the Crusades, initiated, encouraged and blessed by Popes. And, unfortunately, Jews and Muslims, whose Scriptures also share the same account of Abraham, are no different.

There is another question worth considering. The Bible said that God was testing Abraham. Kill your own son! Only a test, a trick to test his loyalty! A lot of devout Christian people today try to make sense of suffering by believing that God is testing them. But what does that say about God? Do adults who deeply love choose sometimes to hurt each other or deliberately hurt their children to test their love? Could you genuinely love a God who physically or psychologically tortures you to test your love?

How do we make sense of today’s story? It is question of interpretation. We need to see the story of Israel as the story of a people gradually coming to know God more and more clearly under God’s patient, gentle guidance. When God first called Abraham, Abraham’s sense of God was no different from that of the rest of the people of his time and culture. It took Israel about two thousand years until one of them, Jesus of Nazareth, came on the scene; and through his life and teaching revealed once and for all what God is really like. And over the two thousand years since then we have been struggling to understand him and to take his message to heart.

The Hebrew Scriptures and the Church’s history witness to a process not unlike an old-time dance – two steps forward, one step back. Someone got a wonderful insight. Some people grasped the point. And then they all got cold feet, and went back more or less to where they were before. Till another prophet came along with a further beautiful insight – and the process continued.  We need to know how to read the Scriptures, sorting out genuine inspired insight from mere cultural baggage. It is a fascinating study whose overriding interpretative clue is “The Good News of God”.

That Abraham saw animal sacrifice a better alternative to human sacrifice was an enormous step forward for humanity. That he saw trusting faith in God as preferable to simply getting words and ritual right was another step towards the light. But every two steps forward seemed to be followed by one step back.

What is your sense of God? The best way to know someone is through the eye of love.