Abraham must have been very certain about what he was doing to risk the blessing that God had given him. He must have thought he was right.
Abraham was told that he would be the father of many nations. God had said: “No longer will you be called Abram, your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.” Abram and Sarai were very old when they were told they would be parents – long past the age of conceiving. And then Abraham and Sarah had Isaac, a name that means laughter. So Isaac was Abraham’s legacy – his progeny. Abraham is referred to as blessed because of this.
It’s clear from the passage that God is testing Abraham… but why? For what purpose? Is it this test that gives Abraham the descriptor of “blessed” – he has passed the test so now he is blessed, he is deserving? The scripture certainly does read that way.
A lot of ink has been spilled on interpreting this story – the Binding of Isaac.
- Some scholars argue that Abraham was righteous, focused on God’s Will. Willing to sacrifice everything, even his legacy – his own flesh and blood – to obey God.
- Others argue that he was a fool, stupid. Focused on his own salvation, on what he thought was God’s Will. Blind to what he was actually doing, saved from himself only at the last minute by God’s angel.
- Still others argue that this is a metaphor for Abraham’s willingness to surrender his dearest treasure, his son to God’s purpose. In essence, giving up his fatherhood, his rights over his son.
My question for Abraham is: “Why are you so certain about what God is telling you this time?” I remember that it was Abraham who had questioned God about the destruction of Sodom… questioned God’s decision to destroy an entire city, the righteous and the sinful together.
So, I want to say to him: “Y stopped God from destroying a whole city and you’re going to surrender your son? You’re not going to question God about this? This relationship that means everything to you, that you cherish beyond measure… you would rather be right and destroy this relationship than to stop and question your own certainty?”
And I wonder, what is it that creates that certainty in us that we are willing to replace righteousness for relationship? How often have we done something that indicates we’d rather be right than be in relationship? Why are we so concerned with our own justification? To make sure that we are deserving of God’s blessing upon us? And how do we know who is deserving of God’s blessing? Because we say so based on our standards?
Depending on how we see ourselves and our relationship with God, we may be convinced that our trials in life are what make us deserving – the long-suffering servant from today’s psalm: How long, O Lord? will you forget me for ever? how long will you hide your face from me? But I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help.
Or perhaps it’s our piety/faith makes us deserving. If we do the right thing.
Or if we just believe hard enough, we will be blessed.
But what we fail to see so often is that we are already blessed. We forget that God blessed all of creation when She made it. When He formed us from the earth, God called us good. We have already been given life. Breath. This flesh. This incarnate, finite existence… to feel joy, love, to celebrate… to share with one another. To bless one another as we have been blessed.
Today’s passage from Matthew is a part of a long set of instructions Jesus gives his disciples as he tells them to go out and preach. To go from this place into Galilee and preach. And since we are his disciples, we are called to listen too. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
In other words: Whoever welcomes you, effectively welcomes the Christ in you, which is to say, welcomes God. Welcomes us as blessed people. It’s the relationship we have as incarnate, finite human beings. Enfleshed and created. Called good by God from the very beginning.
Those who are truly hospitable to God, will be those who receive the disciples well. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and welcomes the one who sent me.
Granted, it’s not always easy to welcome the people who show up on your doorstep, who show up in your life. Especially those who are unbidden, who interrupt us from the daydream we have of who we are, the people who challenge us in our lives. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to be told that we’re wrong or mistaken about what we believe. But we’re called to welcome them anyway as prophets.
Sometimes we become empassioned about our opinions and when people don’t agree we fold up our tent and go home. We sacrifice again and again and again because the relationship is less important than being right.
And so, we’re always standing there holding the knife, just like Abraham, willing to slay the very relationship that God has given us – the relationship that God called good because of the sharing of the incarnate breath. Just to prove we are right? Deserving? Is that what being blessed is about? That we get to say… “See? I was right? Sorry, that I failed to acknowledge your blessed nature, but I was right!”
Instead, what if we remembered ourselves. What if, in that moment of sacrifice, we actually heard God’s angel saying to us: Stop! You silly human! That’s not the way to honor God’s blessing.
Because if we saw ourselves as God’s beloved child, wouldn’t we be better able to receive without feeling the need to be deserving of it? The need of prove our own righteousness? The need for others to prove theirs?
Would we better understand that the innate blessedness of God’s creation, that God’s love that formed us in the womb is what makes us “deserving” in the first place? Would we continue to demand that others are “deserving” of what they receive?
We have to look no further than this country’s debate over health care to realize that we have forgotten this truth. I realize that it’s a contentious discussion about the right way to do it and the wrong way to do it. But at the core of it is a very direct question about how we understand ourselves in relationship to God: If we truly saw all people as God’s children, saw the entire creation as blessed and beloved (most especially ourselves) why wouldn’t we want to ensure everyone has access to good healthcare? Our very bodies are made from the same earth by the same God.
Why would there be a need to say some are more deserving than others? Healthcare in a tiered system. You deserve this level. You deserve this level and so on.
But, we all have the same incarnate flesh. We all breathe the same air.
Why wouldn’t we want to offer what we have received? Is it because we think we need to deserve something in order to receive it so we need others to deserve it based on our standards?
Because those standards are arbitrary – different for every single person, country, system. Are we afraid of losing it if we give it away? Do we forget that God has already called us good?
Here’s a different way of thinking about blessing:
If we start from the place of truly knowing that all of Creation is blessed and is therefore a blessing unto us… if we remembered that more often, it would enable us to be better hosts to the Christ in one another, better hosts to God in our midst.
Maybe, then, we would be less willing to fold up our tent and go home. Less willing to lay Isaac down on the altar and sacrifice the relationship for the points we might score from being right.
When we realize that we are hosting God in the person we’ve been given that day is when the true blessing actually happens. Because we are blessed when someone receives what we offer. Not when we receive but when we are received. We are seen. When we offer love, offer kindness, offer compassion, offer ourselves as an audience. And that is received.
We offer and we offer. And then offer again. This is the self-emptying we are called to do as Christians.
When we make of ourselves and offering and sacrifice to God… that’s not just a request to put money in the plate. What we’re offering is ourselves at this Table of Reconciliation every week. Ourselves in prayer. Ourselves in connection, in relationship with one another. We are emptying ourselves.
And in doing so, we are host to God in Christ – if just for that moment every week and we practice this and eventually we remember to offer ourselves when we go out every week. This is what Jesus is talking about when he calls us to go out and peach: Leave here with what you learn and go and do likewise out in the world. To be a blessing is to receive a blessing.
This is what Jesus is saying when he says: “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.”