GENESIS 22:1-19; MATTHEW 9:1-8

"GOD PUT ABRAHAM TO THE TEST."   This first reading today is the most impressive emotionally of the Hebrew Bible.   Abraham is commanded by God to slay the son who gave hope to his life and significance.   How strong and evident that command was that he felt constrained to obey at the cost of his one human hope for a happy future.   His trust in God, however, proved stronger than his most cherished natural affection.

He could not be consoled by awareness that he was serving as a prophet of the far greater sacrifice of the Son of God in the distant future.   Yet it is this prophetic role of his consent to such a fearsome deed that endows the experience with its full meaning.   The event is so effectively described in vivid detail that we readily enter into it as it unfolds.   We feel the tension mounting as the stages of the trip to the mount unfold.   Having found His servant unwavering, at the last moment God Himself intervenes to save the son.   The ending is a happy one, giving all the more appreciation to the father and his delivered son of the special care of their Creator.   Tradition understood that, nonetheless, Isaac was marked by it all his life.   His way of life became remarkably domestic once he married and brought his wife back to his family home.   He settled in, centering the remainder of his days on domestic concerns.   Surrounded by an increasingly large family, his interests were limited by care for them.   In the end it was his son Joseph who preserved his old age at a time of famine.

The Catholic fathers had no hesitation is seeing this deliverance of Isaac as a prophecy of the future resurrection of Jesus.   Isaac, after all, after a full life, died and was buried in a well-remembered and honored tomb.

That Jesus' whole existence was lived in a higher world is implied even while fully participating in this material universe.   This appears already at his conception, and is made more evident in the course of his active ministry.   We observe this in today's Gospel text.

Jesus by way of healing a hopeless paralytic first made it clear that there was a higher power at work than physical.   He stated explicitly that he healed "that you may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins."   Just as Isaac is saved by divine intervention, so Jesus heals by divine authority.   He continues this grace here and now among us, in this Eucharist.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger