By Barbara Klugh
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text.
This week’s readings are about our relationship to God. We are reminded that God provides, that we are freed from the power of sin by God’s grace, and that our simple gestures of loving service are precious to God.
Genesis: In last week’s reading, Abraham banished Sarah’s slave Hagar and Ishmael, the child of Hagar and Abraham. In this week’s reading, Abraham is called to sacrifice Isaac, his other son.
Sacrifice of Isaac, by Rembrandt (1606 – 1669). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac [did God forget about Ishmael?], whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” Without any arguing or resistance (Abraham argued with God over Sodom and Gomorrah), the next morning Abraham cut the wood for the burnt offering and set out for Moriah with Isaac and two servants. When they arrive, Abraham has the servants stay back while he and Isaac journey up the mountain. Isaac carried the wood and Abraham carried the fire and the knife. Isaac said, “Father!…The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
Abraham built an altar, bound Isaac, and placed him on the altar. As he took the knife to kill Isaac, an angel appeared and said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Abraham saw a ram in a thicket and offered the ram as the burnt offering.
This is a heartbreaking story and has many questions, interpretations, and reasons. It’s hard for me to believe that our loving God would ask Abraham (or anyone) to perform such a horrible act, even as a test. Not in the lectionary, but reading further, I thought it was interesting that the text doesn’t record Isaac returning with Abraham. In fact, the Bible doesn’t record Abraham and Isaac ever speaking to each other again. Abraham gives Isaac an inheritance and arranges a marriage, but there is no face-to-face encounter as far as we know.
God provides. Through Abraham’s total obedience, God renews his promise to Abraham. And we thank God for the gift of his Son, whose willing sacrifice was a perfect payment for our sins. But still… My personal take is that Abraham was mistaken that it was God’s voice telling him to sacrifice Isaac (maybe he was becoming senile in his old age). Then God sent an angel at the last minute to prevent Abraham from doing the horrific deed.
Psalm: This week’s psalm is an individual lament attributed to David, and it moves from despair to hope. Four times the psalmist asks the Lord, “How long…?” Then he asks that God will answer, so that his enemies will not prevail over him. In the closing verses, he expresses his hope that he will thank God for his saving help: “I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt with me richly; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.”
Paulus St Gallen, from an early 9th century manuscript version of Saint Paul’s letters. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Romans: Our reading continues Paul’s teaching on how to live as new creations in Christ. Our new life doesn’t mean we will no longer be tempted to sin, but we must not allow our mortal bodies to be used “as instruments of wickedness,” but used instead as “instruments of righteousness.” We need to be committed to living a new kind of life.
Paul reminds us we cannot serve two masters. We have the power to decide whether we will be slaves to our sinful impulses or obedient to the gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. God’s is gracious and loves us as sinners, but we have been set free to walk on the road to holiness. The reward is eternal life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Matthew: This week’s reading concludes the missionary discourse. Earlier, Jesus told his disciples about the difficulties of following him—they will face trials, suffering, and persecution. In this week’s reading, Jesus speaks about the rewards of the discipled life. Here is the entire reading:
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
In Jewish custom, it was considered that to receive a person’s agent or messenger was the same as to receive that person. Prophets were God’s messengers, and those who welcome a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. A righteous person someone who is mature in faith, and those who welcome him or her will gain the same reward. “Little ones” could have multiple meanings. It could refer to children or to those who were new in the faith.
So we need not be prophets or saints because all service on behalf of the kingdom, whether great or simple, is equal in God’s eyes. That’s good news!