Friday, March 26, 2004

Speaking of Abraham

When you read Genesis 22, you are hardly awake, if the hairs on the back of your neck don't stand up. The whole story speaks loudly and clearly of the crucifixion and death of Christ. Note that Isaac is Abraham's only son (Jesus is the only-begotten Son), it is a three day journey (three days in the tomb), that Isaac carries the wood on his back (Christ carries the cross on his back), and that Abraham consoles his son by saying that "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son," which was fulfilled in the near term for Abraham, but fulfilled most wondrously in Christ, who is God himself. All of this could be a topic for a most interesting post.

But I want to focus on a later passage: Gen 22:12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." Abraham is commended because he is willing to offer his son to God. Everything is given up for God, including the son, the only son, whom Abraham loves.

Are you willing to give up your son or daughter to God?

I have a daughter, and I often tell people of my ambitions for her, that I hope she will choose religious life. Usually the reaction to this is dismay: "Oh, you don't want her to lock herself up in a convent!" "Such a pretty little girl--what a shame to be a nun!" "Oh no, don't you want her to get married?" The common thread is "Oh no, not religious life!" Now, obviously little Macrina (not her real name) will do what she likes with her life. But I hope that she chooses what is objectively the best life, the contemplative religious life.

You might say to me: "That's unfair! Isn't marriage just as good as religious life? That's really mean, to say that one sort of life is objectively better than another!" I say back to you: it might be mean, and it might be unfair, but it's what Jesus said. Do you remember the story of Mary and Martha? Martha puttered around being a hostess, and complained that Mary wasn't doing anything, but was just sitting at the feet of the Lord. Luk 10:41 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." Jesus doesn't do what we expect him to, which is to tell Mary to get busy with her chores. No, he tells the busy one that she's picking the lesser good. It is far better to contemplate Christ.

Do you want more evidence? Consider the passage in Matthew 19 when the disciples complain about the strict teaching against divorce: isn't it better not to marry, they ask, perhaps expecting some weakening of Jesus' position. But he doesn't say what they expect: Mat 19:11 But he said to them, "Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." It's better to be a "eunuch" for the kingdom of heaven.

Do you need still more evidence? Consider what Paul says: 1Co 7:27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. It's no sin to marry, but it is better not to marry, for the sake of the kingdom of God. One more quote: 1Co 7:38 So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

Getting married is a good thing, intended from the beginning, a symbol of the Trinity, and a joy and consolation for both husband and wife. But it isn't the best life. I want my daughter to lead the best life. Thus I am ambitious for a religious vocation for her. I think it is necessary for us parents, if we truly love God, to follow Abraham's example and be willing to give up our children to God. It's the best possible life, as Jesus says. Don't you want the best for your kids?

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