St. Dominic Catholic Church

2002 Merton Ave | Los Angeles, CA 90041 | (323) 254-2519


2/25/2018 Second Sunday of Lent

The origin of sacrifices to gods is lost in the shadows of pre-history. Virtually every ancient culture practiced ritual sacrifice. Through sacrifice you take something you could use, or something that is valuable, and offer it to a deity. It could be objects made of precious metals. Animals were slaughtered and burned or eaten. Wine and grain - food necessary for survival - were deliberately destroyed. The intent may have been to please a god angered by some offense you’d committed, or to give thanks for a bountiful crop, or good weather, or a healthy child. The more valuable the thing, the more vital to your existence, the more powerful the sacrifice.

The testing of Abraham is incredibly disturbing. In the logic of sacrifice, what could be more powerful than to offer your own child? But why would God ask such a cruel thing to test Abraham?  How could Abraham go through with it? Isaac was the embodiment of God’s covenant promise to make of him a great nation.

How awful it must be for a parent to imagine slaughtering their beloved child. Abraham proves his trust and devotion to God, but I imagine it comes at a price. How could Isaac ever fully trust Abraham? Why is this story, which opponents of religion use as an argument against religion, included in the Bible? I think the story is more than a rejection of human sacrifice, and more than proof of Abraham’s faith. In the terrible walk up the mountain, Abraham’s confused son asks, “where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Abraham prophesies.  It may be a sign of his faith in God’s goodness and trustworthiness that he says, “God will provide the sheep for the holocaust”. And at the end of the story Abraham names place “God will provide” to remind him that God indeed provided for the sacrifice.

Jesus takes three of his disciples up a mountain. There, his humanity is transfigured by his divinity. As we say in the creed, he is “light from light,” and on that mountaintop that light is revealed for a moment. And the Father reveals his relationship with Jesus: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Immediately after the Transfiguration, Jesus begins to make his way to Jerusalem. The temple in that city was built on the same mountain where Abraham nearly sacrificed his only begotten son, Isaac. There, on mount Golgotha, within sight of mount Moriah, Jesus will be revealed as the sheep God will provide for the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that does not contain a Transfiguration story. Instead, in John’s Gospel Jesus’ glory is revealed on the cross.

St. Paul provides the connection between the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son and the sacrifice of God the Father’s son. St. Paul asks a question of anyone who might ever doubt God’s love for us. “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? For you who are parents, the horrible story of Abraham and Isaac helps you understand the depth of the Father and the Son’s love for us. The beloved Son carries the wooden cross for the sacrifice of himself up a mountain. The Father who loves him does not stay the hands of his Son’s executioners.

God the Father and His Son have acquitted us of our sins through this final sacrifice. That same sacrifice of Jesus is present in each Mass in an unbloody way through the action of God the Holy Spirit. And yet we take this most precious of all gifts and offer it in sacrifice to false gods. What I mean is, we ignore prayer because we’re too busy with work. We don’t share our wealth with the poor because we’re greedy. We don’t fast from our favorite foods, alcohol, social media, our sports team, or gossip because we’re addicted to them. We sacrifice the faith that saves us on altars dedicated to false gods who promise comfort, entertainment, success, and power.

Lent is a time to change this situation. God puts us to the test daily.  Can we say, “here I am” like Abraham? The test is whether we can sacrifice that TV show that we think we can’t miss, or the overtime worked to buy something we can live without. The test is whether we can sacrifice the satisfaction our ego gets when we gossip, or try to win an argument instead of listening to the other. The test is whether we can sacrifice the illusion that money will make us happy or secure or more respected. We don’t offer our sons and daughters in sacrifice. The test is whether we offer can offer ourselves to the Father who loves us so much that he will give us everything we need. Because he already has given us His beloved, only-begotten Son.