2018 – Cycle B
Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8: 31b-34; Mark 9:2-10
I really thought that with the shooting of 20 six and seven year old children at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012 that finally the country we would rise up against this kind of violence; the violence of children killing children. But it didn’t happen. It never happens.
So on Ash Wednesday when I heard of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, I didn’t have a strong reaction. Is it the repetition of these acts of killing that have deadened the sense of shock? How often have you and I heard over and over the repetitious requisite outcries, seen the photos of the victims and tear-filled parents, beheld the candlelight vigils, heard the promises of school administrations and government officials, seen the funerals and endured the talk about mental health care, gun control and the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, and then… Those of us who are not parents cannot begin to understand the unbearable feelings that must go through a father and mother. We cannot put ourselves in these parent’s places. Yet why as a people are we not responding to this situation alongside them? Why do we turn it off and sit and wait for the next one?
The Wall Street Journal last weekend reported and listed the 150 names of the children and adults that have been killed in more than 70 shootings at kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools since 1990. 70 shootings in 28 years. Most do not make the news. Neither will the divorces that will arise from the death of a child or the trauma of the students who have experienced their friends and teachers killed in front of them.
In the light of our present story, the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most troubling of stories in the scriptures. How? …why does God ask for such a sacrifice? What parent would even contemplate, least of all unquestioningly carry it out as an expression of commitment and obedience to any god? How does our God who, in the covenant with Noah, placed his bow in the heavens to remind himself never again to destroy creation now, in making a covenant with Abraham, ask for the death of a child and at the hands of the parent?!
A society which tolerates its children killing children is…I don’t know the word that aptly describes the present situation in our country. Is there hope for such a society when the ability to act is allowed to be thwarted at every turn? How many more children will be sacrificed to what god, on what altar?
That is an important question because there has been no voice from heaven crying out “Do not lay a hand on the boy!” to stop the horror of these acts.
Whenever this passage of the sacrifice of Isaac appears in the lectionary I always recall Wilfred Owen. Wilfred Owen was a Second Lieutenant in the British Army during World War I. After 100 years, his war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare still stand the test of time even in our technologized and antiseptic version of war.
In his poem, The Parable of the Old Man and the Young, Owen retells the Abraham/Isaac story from the perspective of his experience of war. It is apropos here as well. Like the scriptural version, a voice shouts out to stop the act:ere
…Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram,…Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
In our inability, our unwillingness? to act, are we not slaying our children “one by one”? In the biblical story, heaven is at least outraged and sends a messenger to stop the act. Where is our outrage? We tend to get outraged only when it is something that affects us directly like our property values, limitations on our children’s extra – curricular activities or the elimination of tax breaks. Where is the outrage over the value of human life? Why are we unwilling to offer the “Ram of Pride”? Are we so fearful of losing some privilege that is perceived to be more important than human life?
I do not care where you politically stand as regards the 2nd Amendment, gun control or mental health, because if we Christians are blind and deaf to the signs that our society is in the grip of sin then we are the most pitiable of people. Some of you, I expect, will accuse me of meddling in politics. Is that what our children’s lives’ are, politics?
We all live and breathe in an atmosphere in which life is cheap. We end the life of 6 to 9 month old children that can live outside the womb and are recognizably and obviously human, we abuse the elderly, pornography has proliferated, video games spatter blood all over the screens, violence is presented as entertainment, and sexual harassment is the norm in the entertainment, sports and financial businesses. All of us including our children, our teenagers and young adults are swimming in this atmosphere whether we directly engage in these activities or not. We are breathing it in as toxins. We no longer tolerate cigarette smoke in public places but we still tolerate this poisoned atmosphere of life.
The story of the sacrifice of Isaac will continue to disturb us, as it should. At the heart of the story is a young boy, Isaac. A knife is at his throat and…and for contemporary Isaacs there is no heavenly messenger to stop the horror. Isaac will have to rescue himself. We hear his confronting voice in the damning cry of 17–year–old senior, David Hogg, “We’re children. You guys are the adults.” We hear the anger in senior, Emma Gonzales, “The people in the government… They say…kids don’t know what we are talking about, that we are too young to understand…” And the searing outrage from the editor of the school’s magazine, 17–year–old, Carly Novell, “This IS about guns.”
It is also about biblical justice. The Bible’s sense of justice is that something is terribly wrong and needs to be set right. There must be justice. And if there is to be a moral order, justice not only must be done but must be seen to be done. The voice of Isaac, heard in our teenagers, is crying out for setting things right and for this justice to be concrete.
Instead of demolishing school buildings so we can forget, we adults need to join in the outrage of Isaac and raise our voices for justice. Something is terribly wrong and needs to be set right. If we remain silent like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac will continue to die “one by one”.