It has been months since I last blogged.
Death stopped me in my writer’s tracks.
First there was the unexpected and too early death of my younger sister.
Then there were three months traveling off and on to sit with a friend of 46 years, dying in hospice care.
This morning, when I read the Daily Readings put out by the USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops), death confronted me again in the day’s First Reading..
From Judges, it is the story of Jephthah, who offers a sacrifice to the Lord if God will deliver his enemies, the Ammonites, into Jephthah’s power for defeat. And what does Jephthah offer as a sacrifice? The first person to greet him on his return home.
Who was that person? His beloved daughter and only child. How does she accept this sacrifice? She accepts it by asking for two months to mourn her virginity with her friends and then says “Do with me as you have vowed.”
Immediately I thought of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and as a woman, I was deeply offended. Why did God allow her to be sacrificed, but kept Isaac from the same fate?
It felt for a moment like the typical patriarchal rejection of the value of womanhood.
But then I realized the point wasn’t in the objects of the sacrifice, but the difference in intent with which the sacrifices were made, as well as how they were accepted.
Jephthah’s sacrifice was transactional; “God, if you give me this, I will give you that.” And though it broke his heart, not knowing his daughter would be first to greet him, Jephthah kept his vow at HER express urging. Her “fiat.” Her faith. (A foreshadowing of how Mother Mary would one day accept her own virginal fate.)
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac was purely a matter of his own faith. He knew beforehand what he would be called upon to give up – his most beloved son. Isaac was as innocent as a lamb, not knowing what his father intended and carrying the wood for his own sacrificial offering. (Another foreshadowing.)
During this, Abraham was willing to trust in God’s promise that his heirs would be as countless as the stars.
This is a paradoxical trust, because it calls on Abraham to give up the only legitimate child he has, which should have made him doubt God’s promise. Yet it didn’t.
Because he didn’t say “Okay God, I will sacrifice my son, but I expect you to keep your word to me.” That would have made Abraham’s offering as transactional as was Jephthah’s, and perhaps kept in equally stunning fashion.
Abraham’s example IS how we are all to offer up our suffering, joy, and day-to-day lives to the Lord: not in a grand bargain, but in trust that the Lord of all keeps his promises.
And that when we freely give our offerings up to him, it is his mercy and grace toward us that prevails.
Even if it seems like a deadly interruption, and it outrages us at first.