Abraham and the ONE

Mar 5, 2012

How many God’s are there?

I asked this question as I began the homily in Hanmer at the Vigil Mass last night. One person put up their hand and answered that there was only one God.  I was not surprised that he gave the right answer. I was a bit surprised though that he was the only one of the forty people present to raise a hand to answer!

Of course we all know that there is one God. But do you know who was the first to announce and live by this reality?  It was Abraham.  We meet him again in today’s first reading.

There is an old tradition that tells of Abram (his slight name change came only later), looking after his father’s wood carving studio one day. Abraham (knowing that these were only idols and that there was only ONE God), smashed all the idols to pieces.

It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when Abram’s dad returned!  The tradition continues that Abram explained to his father than when his (Abram’s) back was turned, all the idols got into a big fight which finished only when one (the biggest) won.  “Yeah, right” his dad might have said!  But the point was made, and today we know Abraham as the Father in Faith for the three great monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This story is well worth reading starting before Chapter 22 which is today’s first reading.  Start about Chapter 14 or 15 of Genesis. Better still start at Chapter One – only 10 minutes reading to get you up to Chapter 22 and you will see how Noah and the others fit into the earlier scenes.

Back to Abraham who now, married to Sarah, and the father of Ishmael (the father of Islam) by the slave woman Hagar (see, the story really is interesting!), has reached the age of 99 with Sarah aged just 90. 

All along God has promised Abraham that he will be the father of a great multitude of descendants. Abraham can’t see how this could be since he is an old man (to say nothing of the 90 year-old wife Sarah), but he continues to trust his one God.  Three men (angels) visit the elderly couple to announce that their parenthood was immanent, but Sarah just laughs. (note Abraham had already laughed in Gen 17:17)

You can read the story for yourselves (the visit of the Angels is Gen 18:18). Soon after the visit, the elderly Abraham and Sarah give birth to Isaac whom they cherish as a the gift that fulfulls God’s promise.

Now let’s jump to today’s first Reading. In Chapter 22 we find Abraham responding to God’s call to take his only son Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him to the Lord.

Can you imagine this?  This seems to make no sense at all.  Their son was the fulfillment of God’s promise. How can God be asking that Isaac now be sacrificed by Abraham who cherishes his only legitimate son?

But this is exactly what Abraham knows God to be asking. Abraham takes Isaac to the place of sacrifice. The fire is set. Imagine the setting – and then hear the young (perhaps 7-8 year old) Isaac ask: ‘daddy, the fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’  Abraham replies with a simple and pained: ‘God will provide.’ 

As Abraham raises the knife to sacrifice his son, the Angel of the Lord stops him. Now God knows that Abraham really believes in ONE GOD.

Let’s try to appreciate more deeply the significance of this event. 

If someone had watched my life very closely over this past week, I fear that they might not see the evidence of my life this week to pointing to my belief in One God.  On Tuesday I was totally preoccupied with a project that has been hanging over me for some time. I fear that on Tuesday it might have looked as though this project was my God. On Thursday I was a bit anxious and worried.  Anxiety and fear had become my God.

Let’s consider this definition: anything (or anyone) I cannot let go of has become my God.

Abraham knew that to possess even his loved son Isaac, more than to desire God’s will, is a path away from freedom and towards captivity.

The extent to which I ‘possess’ any thing (or attitude, or fear,) or person, is the extent to which I am not free.  The extent to which I am not free is the extent to which happiness will elude me.

Abraham, who believed in one God, and who lived for the one God, was a free man. He was a happy man. He is our Father in Faith. And faith is about freedom.

Abraham relaxed into God’s plan, and had more of all he longed for than he could ever have achieved with his own plans and energies.

Relaxing into the will of God is the path to a more full life than we could even imagine.

Why then do we grasp at anything that promises a moment of satisfaction, when eternal love and life is offered to us? Simply because we are not free. Our fears and compulsions drive us. In our hopes and dreams we settle for what is available.

I’m reminded of holding my new niece seven years ago. She was just a couple of weeks old. As I held her she reached out and grasped my little finger with surprising strength. It was as if she had picked up (in her few days of life on earth), that one needs to hold on to be secure.  She was welcome to hold on to me, or to let go if she wanted to play this game. But whether or not she held on to me made absolutely no difference to her security. In my embrace she was totally secure.

And the same is true of us and God. This was the confidence of Abraham’s faith.

We have nothing to fear. Everything is given to us. Let us relax into the embrace of God.



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