ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Isaac Unbound

From the Secretary General

The biggest religious holiday for Muslims is Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. All over the world, devout Muslims recall the sacrifice of Abraham – his willingness to offer the life of his dearly hoped for and dearly loved son in total obedience and submission to the will of God.

Christians and Jews also commemorate and celebrate the submission, faith and sacrifice of Abraham, although not in total agreement with Muslims about all the details of the story.

For Muslims, Abraham is willing to offer up his first-born son, Ismail (Ishmael), child of the slave Hagar whom Abraham took to wife in response to the pleading of the barren Sarah. This is important to Muslims, for Ishmael is considered the great forefather of the Arabs.

For Christians and Jews, Abraham is willing to sacrifice his second-born son, Isaac, the miraculous son of Sarah, the heir of the promise. The symbolism is important to Jews, for Isaac and his son Jacob (Israel) are the forefathers of the Jewish people.

Christians don’t appeal to an ethnic relationship with Abraham but extol him, in the words of the Roman Liturgy, as “our father in faith.”

Later Jewish tradition speaks of the sacrifice not so much as that of Abraham as of Isaac. This faith event is called the Binding of Isaac.

It is the boy, filled with faith like his father, who submits to the supreme will of God and willingly offers his own life in sacrifice. No wonder, then, that Christian tradition sees in Isaac a figure of Jesus, who freely offered his life in sacrifice in obedience to the will of the Father.

When we look at the sacrifice from the point of view of the son, its great lesson is that he suffered himself to be bound. The son freely and willingly surrendered all that he was and had to the will of God. He freely chose to be bound by God’s higher authority. He accepted ultimate restraint upon his freedom and autonomy.

Would that all those who proudly affirm “we are children of Abraham,” whether by human descent or by faith, be his children in deed – and suffer themselves to be bound by the demands of the will, the justice and the love of God.

Individual persons, families, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, nations, governments – we are all reluctant to be bound by anything or anybody. Our supreme value is to be free.

What binds the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac? Do religious traditions bind the behavior of nation states? Do treaties, conventions and the resolutions of the United Nations limit the options of governments?

How about all those other, spiritual children of Abraham, peoples rooted in revealed truths and the divine will? What binds people outside the Middle East when it comes to their personal liberties or the actions of their leaders?

Hopefully Muslims, Christians and Jews who recall the same sacrifice also share the same insight of faith – when we allow the Lord to bind us, we become truly free.

Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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