by Phil Morice Brubaker

Genesis 22:1-2 – Some time later God tested Abraham. … “Take your son, your only son, whom you love―Isaac―and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Grasping handIn last Friday’s reflection, I pointed to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg’s article on the story of Hagar as the reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah (a Jewish season of repentance, not totally unlike Christian Lent). She continues reflecting on why that story is followed the next day with the story of Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice,

“What if the horror of being asked to tie your beloved son to the altar and slaughter him is really a punishment for Abraham’s complicity and Sarah’s heartlessness?”

In the story of Hagar, Abraham and Sarah use her for their own gain (to bear an heir, Ishmael) and then send her to die when they feel that their own son’s inheritance is threatened by Ishmael’s existence. The foreigner and her son are “sacrificed” in order to ensure the blessings of inheritance for Isaac.

In today’s story of the sacrifice of Isaac, God challenges Abraham’s notion that blessings (privileges?) are something to be grasped for. Abraham has to release his anything-goes commitment to ensuring his own family’s security. Of course, Ishmael was also family, but Abraham rejected him as a son.

With these stories juxtaposed, we can hear this message: Sacrificing another’s son to ensure your own son’s security is as unacceptable as sacrificing your own son by your own hand.

Our criminal justice system – from local law enforcement, to prosecutorial procedures, to border patrol and immigration enforcement – is designed to protect certain members of our community at the cost of destroying others. Our government commits violence in distant lands in the name of “national security.” What will it take for our communities to realize that by grasping for security though sacrificing others, we are destroying our own sons and daughters?

[As you pray the following prayer, clench your hands tightly, then let go.]

Divine One, we are a scared people. We fear that we and those we love won’t be provided for. Or won’t be as comfortable as we want to be. Or won’t be safe. We have established systems to try to provide us with safety, but we turn our back on those whose lives are destroyed by our “safety.” We release to you our protection. We open our hands to those whom we destroy in the name of safety. Amen.

Phil Morice Brubaker is coordinator and trainer with Roots of Justice.