First Reading: Genesis 22:1-18

The Will of God

1 It happened after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”

He said, “Here I am.”

2 He said, “Now take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and go into the land of Moriah. Offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of.”

3 Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place far off. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go yonder. We will worship, and come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. He took in his hand the fire and the knife. They both went together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, “My father?”

He said, “Here I am, my son.”

He said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

8 Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they both went together. 9 They came to the place which God had told him of. Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, on the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to kill his son.

11 The angel of YHWH called to him out of the sky, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”

He said, “Here I am.”

12 He said, “Don’t lay your hand on the boy, neither do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

13 Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and saw that behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place YHWH Will Provide. As it is said to this day, “On YHWH’s mountain, it will be provided.”

15 The angel of YHWH called to Abraham a second time out of the sky, 16 and said, “I have sworn by myself, says YHWH, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your seed greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your seed will possess the gate of his enemies. 18 In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

World English Bible

The story of Abraham and Isaac is a familiar. Unfortunately its familiarity causes some to overlook its import. The story has asked (and still asks) a vital question to faith: can someone break God’s Law to fulfill God’s Will? On a deeper level, which is more important, God’s Law or God’s Will?

Do you remember the silly question about God’s power: can God create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift? Replace the notion of the rock with the Law. Now, view the problem. Can God’s Law overpower his Will? More to the point, can God’s Law get in our way to fulfill his Will? Abraham was willing to break God’s Law so he could follow God’s call.

Paul must have grappled with the problem. A Pharisee zealous for the Law, but receiving salvation outside the Law. From a Savior charged and executed for transgressing the Law. (Remember, Jesus was charge for the blasphemy of claiming to be the Messiah!)

Before you despair over such a Gordian note, gentle reader, four things must be pointed out. First, the story of Abraham and Isaac was deliberately polarized to make a point. Simply obeying God’s Law is not enough. One must seek God’s will in and through his Law. And, one must even trust God when he calls him outside his Law.

Second, Paul said Christians were free from the Law. But, instead of license, Paul held moral freedom must be exercised for the common good. God’s will works for the good of all. So, should we.

Third, the story must be read through tradition. The story of Abraham and Isaac is an archtype for God’s self-giving. His Son died on the cross for the good of all, just as Isaac’s near death would fulfill God’s promise to Abraham. This is why parish communities read the narrative on the Easter Vigil.

Fourth, logic fans, there is a way out of the problem. Remember question about God’s power. Actually, the problem can be broken into two parts, two questions. Can God create an infinitely large rock? The answer is “Yes.” Can God lift that rock? Again, the answer is “Yes.” (If the answer was “no” to the second question, then the being in question would not be the truly all-powerful God.) Now, replace the object with God’s Law. Can God perfectly express his will in his Law? The answer is “Yes.” This is the essence of Judaism. Can God’s will work outside of that perfect Law? Again, the answer is “Yes.” This is the essence of Christianity.

Can you see God’s will through his Law? How dangerous can it be to seek God’s will outside his Law? How have you realized God’s will in your life?