First Reading: Gn 22:1-2. 9a. 10-13. 15-18; Psalm: 116. R. v. 9; Second Reading: Rm 8:31b-34; Gospel: Mk 9:2-10



Abraham dismally approached Sarah early that morning and said to her; “I’m going to Moriah to sacrifice our son Isaac on the mountain. The Lord had commanded me to do so.” For a moment, Sarah looked at him oddly and then said; “Do you have a fever? We could perhaps see the doctor so that . . .” “C’mon Sarah,” Abraham cut in quickly; “I’m not kidding. The ass is ready and Isaac is already outside waiting with my menservants. I just came to inform you.” Sarah stood up at once protesting and pacing behind him; “You must be delusional! God could not possibly have commanded that. I won’t let you lay a finger on that boy. Have you forgotten so quickly that it took us till old age to have him?” Abraham had to fend off Sarah’s defiance and left with Isaac.

Isaac heard the altercation. And as they left, he was scared but trusted Abraham his father. “My father will not possibly harm me” he reassured himself. “It could be a prank to test my trust in him.” When they got to the place of sacrifice; Abraham bound Isaac, laid him upon the wood and was about to slay him. But an angel intervened and spared Isaac. When Isaac regained his freedom, he fled saying to himself; “God could possibly change his mind any minute. And as for that old man; I don’t trust him anymore. He will not hesitate this time around.”

This short imaginary story painted here may appear interesting and funny; but the whole idea of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac is immoral and barbaric. How could an all-loving God approve of the human sacrifice of an innocent little boy? Was Abraham delusional? Was Sarah right? But if we considered the context within which this biblical story was written, we may then begin to understand that the idea of this story was shaped and influenced by the cultural practices of a people who were accustomed to human sacrifice at that time. Our shock only comes from the cultural and theological shift that has happened over time.

From this story of Abraham’s test of faith, we can argue that the human author of this narrative was in fact introducing a new chapter in the cultural practices of his people that God condemns human sacrifice. This was an era where children were sacrificed by fire to the gods. There was this practice of slaying children as burnt offering among the Canaanites and the Ammonites to appease or to gain favour from the gods. This barbaric practice of human sacrifice was never interrupted or refused by these gods that were of course lifeless. But in the case of Abraham; Yahweh, the true God intervened with this command: “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him.” (Gn 22:12). This very divine injunction proves that God completely condemns human sacrifice and calls to an end its long practice among his people. God condemns human sacrifice (cf. 2 Kings 3:27; 16:3; 17:17; 21:6). He takes no delight in it. The only sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken and a contrite heart (Ps 51:16-17).

What spiritual lessons do we have to learn from this biblical story? What are our dispositions like when God permits the things that unsettle us? As much as Abraham trusted in God, the thought alone of attempting to slay Isaac would have unsettled him. Abraham could not fathom why God would give him a son and then turn back to take away the same son; his promised heir to many descendants. But amidst this uneven path, Abraham’s faith in the promises of God remained unshaken. We could bet that Sarah would have stopped Abraham if she had her way. No woman, after the pain of many years of childlessness would easily give away her only child; not to speak of offering him as a burnt sacrifice. The question whether God is involved in certain happenings in life has never been so easy to answer.

How do we react when we get a well paid job, and then lose the job few months on due to conspiracy or false accusation? When you finally marry the love of your life and then few years into the marriage, she is diagnosed of stage three cancer. When we happily and expectantly wait for nine months, only to lose both mother and child at childbirth. When we lose both parents in a fatal car accident. When we vote competent leaders who could fix and manage the country’s economy but then an incompetent criminal manipulates the election and hijacks power plunging the entire country into suffering and hardship. When a pandemic suddenly hits the world claiming millions of lives and causing loss of job and irreparable damages. How do we navigate through all these believing that God is still on the course of making our world better?

Of important note, “God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 311).

The story of Abraham and Isaac challenges us to be hopeful and to trust in God when things are not going as planned. The way may be bumpy and uneven, but God still writes straight with crooked lines. God knows how to derive good from the unfortunate happenings in life. Abraham perhaps thought he had lost Isaac; but he got his son back. But even if we are not as lucky as Abraham to get back what we thought we almost had lost; we should trust in God still. You never know.

I would like to share with us the Taoist fable of a poor Chinese farmer. A long time ago, a poor Chinese farmer lost a horse, and all the neighbours came around and said, “Well that’s too bad.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” Shortly after, the horse returned bringing another horse along, and all the neighbours came around and said, “Well that’s good fortune,” to which the farmer replied, “Maybe.” The next day, the farmer’s son was trying to ride on the new horse and fell, breaking his leg; and all the neighbours came around and said, “Well that’s too bad,” and the farmer replied, “Maybe.” Shortly after, the emperor of the land declared war on a neighbouring nation and ordered all able-bodied men to come fight. Many died or were badly maimed, but the farmer’s son was unable to fight and spared due to his injury. And all the neighbours came around and said, “Well that’s good fortune,” to which the farmer replied, “maybe.” And so the story goes.

Due to this common Chinese fable, whenever anything bad happens to anyone in China, people often say; “Sai Weng Shi Ma” (Remember “The Old Man Who Lost His Horse”) to remind themselves that sometimes when bad things happen, it could carry a silver lining. So, never lose faith when tested by unpleasant life experiences. You never know. “Sai Weng Shi Ma.”  


Lord God, increase our faith in you when life circumstances press down on us, that we may not be despondent but trust in your divine will. Amen.

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