September 19, 2021
Genesis 21:1-3; 22:1-14
When we are able to host Bible studies, one of interesting things that we do is known as a Lectio Divina.
This involves having participants reading the same passage from different versions of the Bible aloud.
When this is done, you can recognize the differences in the translations … and some of the choices the editors made as they translated a specific passage.
You can hear the different emphasis each translation pays to different aspects of a passage. You can see how changing a single word can affect the strength or the focus of a passage.
This can lead to all sorts of questions … which leads to a deeper understanding of the message within the passage … and … perhaps … a deeper sense of spirituality.
The process is all about questioning … There are three questions that are always part of a Lectio Divina:
What do you hear?
How does the passage speak to you?
What does it call you to do?
They are questions that can be asked whenever you read or hear a Bible passage.
It’s similar to the rabbinic practice of the Midrash.
This is when rabbis encounter the Torah by asking questions of the text.
They examine even the smallest detail because they believe that the words are a reflection of the divine … so understanding the text better means understanding God better … and understanding our role … our calling … a bit better.
The rabbis would question a passage’s or a book’s theme … the implication of the narrative … and even the characters’ motivations.
This week’s reading from Genesis offers the story of Abraham and Isaac.
In it, God has instructed Abraham to bring Isaac to Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains.
Abraham and his only remaining son make the three-day journey to the land of Moriah … once there, Abraham builds an altar, collects wood, binds up his son and is about to sacrifice Isaac when an angel appears and stops him.
Abraham … through his willingness to make such an offering … has passed the test.
Looking at the nearby brush, Abraham spots a ram … which he offers in place of his son.
It’s a troubling text for some modern readers, the passage offers a view of biblical child abuse … the psychological abuse of Isaac … in the name of faith.
Some modern readers say it models a harsh faith that accepts such cruelty.
This week’s passage from Genesis is fertile ground for a lot of questions in a Lectio Divina or a Midrash.
So, let me offer some questions to ponder for today’s passage.
What was going through Abraham’s mind during the journey … knowing what was to happen when they reached their destination?
What was Isaac thinking after he found out what his father planned to do?
Why the test? … Was the test for God’s benefit …
Was it for Abraham’s benefit … for our benefit?
Why would God want a child sacrifice?
Where was Abraham’s wife, Sarah, in all this? Why doesn’t the passage mention her or her reaction to God’s instruction?
It’s interesting that at a time when we are talking about asking questions of the text, that Abraham doesn’t ask a single one … he is just confident that God will provide a way out.
What kind of faith does Abraham display? Is it a blind faith that we should share? Or does he model a faith that should be open to questioning … to discerning a way forward?
I think you can see the value of a using Lectio Divina or a Midrash … discerning answers to such questions … or any others that come to mind … help deepen our understanding of our call … of the promise held within the texts.
Answering some of these questions brings more depth to the passages and texture to our own faith.
In today’s passage, Abraham finds himself between the word of death that takes away and the word of life that gives … as one discussion the story puts it … God tests and God provides.
We can find ourselves between the two points, as well … we prefer a God who provides, but we often feel we are being tested … a time when questions can abound.
Certainly, our journey through the pandemic has been such a time when we question what we perceive as God’s absence or as God’s actions.
But it is through our faith that such tests can be met … and it is through faith when we experience the grace that God provides.
It’s when we share such love that uncertainty eases … that the anxiety … the disconnection … the isolation we have experienced all fall away.
Because the one thing that can remain unquestioned is the effect of God’s unconditional love on the life of the world.