Unit Theme (Sept. 10 – October 8): God Provides Blessings
Our first series of texts in the Year 4 Narrative Lectionary moves through the theme of “God Provides Blessings” in our Living the Word faith formation resources. Last week, we saw God providing the blessing of creation and of the image of God in people. This week is a story in two parts, three verses from Genesis 21 and fourteen from Genesis 22.
God has given many promises to Abraham and Sarah since they were introduced in Genesis 12. Finally, in our first part, one of the main promises is fulfilled, the birth of a son to these elderly parents. So impossible was this promise that Sarah laughed in disbelief upon hearing it. In chapter 21, that laughter is transformed from disbelief to joy as the long-awaited son is born and therefore named Laughter (Isaac). This is a story of great joy and happiness.
Unfortunately, it does not take long for this story to turn down a darker path. After Isaac is weaned, Sarah insists that “this slave woman and her son” (Hagar and Ishmael) be banished from her sight, ignoring the fact that Ishmael only exists because of Sarah’s idea. Then, after a short interlude in ancient water politics, we come to the main story.
The Binding (or Sacrifice) of Isaac is a difficult passage to interpret. People of faith within both the Jewish and Christian traditions have struggled with this passage for a long time. This is why in our faith formation products aimed at elementary students, we focus on the long-awaited promise fulfilled in the birth of Isaac.
In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, and Abraham obeys. This is the most difficult part of the story for me. It’s not Abraham attempting to sacrifice his child, as child sacrifice was a widespread practice in Canaan. It’s not God stopping Abraham’s hand and providing a ram to sacrifice instead, as we have a God who loves us and provides for us. It’s the fact that, according to this story, God is the one who ordered the killing in the first place, even if it’s a test. The same God who condemns the practice of child sacrifice over and over again in Scripture.
Many people have found ways to interpret this story that they find satisfactory. That’s great! However, I argue that it’s also okay if you don’t find an interpretation that you can accept. For youth and adults, use this text as an opportunity to discuss difficult passages in Scripture and how to struggle with them. Jacob wrestled with God, so we can as well. Many people think of pastors and other faith formation leaders as the people who have all the answers. This, of course, is patently untrue, and an unhelpful hindrance in the faith formation of those who may not be biblically “literate.” I have personally been thanked by small group members for openly struggling with a text, as a guy with a seminary education.
Now, for elementary-age and below, directly struggling with this text is probably not a good idea. You can certainly admit that you don’t have all the answers (no human does), but wrestling with the Sacrifice of Isaac is beyond their developmental level. Learning about waiting and celebrating the birth of a baby is a better choice.
Blessings on your faith formation preparation this week!
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
This week’s FREE faith formation resource is simple activity from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) product that can be used as part of a children’s sermon, the worship service, or a classroom activity. The Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum provides weekly lessons covering each Sunday of the Narrative Lectionary year with a large variety of activities for different learning and teaching styles.