Thursday July 5, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 22:1-19) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:1-8)
In the first reading, we have this very well known story about Abraham and Isaac. There are lots of little things to note in this story. First of all, we hear God saying to Abraham, "Take Isaac your son, your only one, whom you love." Now, we know that Abraham had two sons. He had Ishmael by Hagar the Egyptian slave-woman and then Isaac, thirteen years later. It was after the thirteenth year that Abraham had Ishmael circumcised and then sent him away. The purpose of all this is that the Egyptians circumcised their males at thirteen years of age. So, the fact that this is what happened is showing very clearly, in God's Providence, that Ishmael is not the son of the promise. Ishmael is born of an Egyptian mother and, therefore, is considered to be an Egyptian. Remember, Judaism is a matriarchal society; if your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish; if your father is Jewish but your mother is not, then you are not considered a Jew. It has to do with the mother. In this case, the mother was not Jewish, she was an Egyptian woman. God was making it very clear that this child is an Egyptian, he is not a Jew. Even though he is a son of Abraham, he is not the son of the promise. We have all these different things going on along those lines.
Then, God says, "Take your son and sacrifice him." Remember, about twenty years earlier, Abraham had taken matters into his own hands; he was not obedient to God and did not trust. Finally, when he was about 100 years old, he had Isaac; now, he is asked to sacrifice Isaac. He had waited all these years and now God is asking him to give his son back. But Abraham had learned his lesson: He was not going to take matters into his own hands this time, he was going to be obedient. So, he takes Isaac and journeys to Moriah.
We recognize all the elements that would make this an analogy to Jesus: putting wood on his shoulders, carrying it up the mountain, and so on. It is interesting that the place where he was going to be sacrificed on Mount Moriah is precisely the place of Jerusalem, years later. Even the name is important. When he built the altar and God provided the ram, Abraham called it Yahweh-yireh. Up to that point, it was called Salem. Then, Yireh became the prefix: Yireh-salem - "Jerusalem." That is where it gets its name. It is not exactly on the same spot where Jesus was sacrificed because He had to be sacrificed outside the city, but it is the place where the temple in Jerusalem is built. If you look today at a picture of Jerusalem, it is where the Moslems have built a place up on the temple mountain with a golden dome on top of it. It is called the Dome of the Rock. That is where the sacrifice of Isaac was going to take place.
One other thing to recognize in here, as well, (the Fathers of the Church always made a very large issue of this) is that in the English translation the wording is not as clear, but it is very clear if you look in the Hebrew or Latin translations. It does not say "God Himself will provide a sheep for the sacrifice" but "God will provide a lamb Himself for the sacrifice." The Lamb, of course, is Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb for the sacrifice, who is God. "God will provide a lamb Himself for the sacrifice." All these different things in this story show the promises of God and the fidelity of Abraham.
We also need to learn from this, for ourselves, not to take matters into our own hands; but to trust in God, and then to be able to trust that God's Providence is going to take care of everything. Even though something looks completely outlandish when God asks for something, even though we do not understand, all that God is asking is for us to be obedient. He will provide the rest.
With all that background, just take that and apply it to Jesus. You will see that what God refused to allow Abraham to do, He did Himself. Remember that this was the land of Canaan where they sacrificed their first-born children to a demon. Abraham goes into the land and God refuses to allow human sacrifice. Again, this is making a very important point. But, then, God does not fail to sacrifice His own Son.
You have all these different points to keep in mind when you read this story. It all revolves around the promise. The promise, while it indeed is fulfilled in Isaac, it is ultimately fulfilled only in Jesus. On that same mountain is the place where the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb that God provided, took place.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.