First Sunday In Lent

S. Lent 1.24 Gen. 22, Mark 1:9-15

And Abraham called the name of the place YHWH Sees, as it is said to this day: ‘On the mount of the LORD it shall be seen’… And a voice came from heaven, ‘my Son, my beloved—good gloried!

When Jesus is baptized, the Holy Trinity is revealed: the Spirit descends as a dove, the voice of the Father resounds from heaven, “my Son, my beloved—good gloried!” ευδοκεω is literally “good-gloried”—Greek ευ is ‘good’; δοξα is ‘gloried’; ‘well-pleased’ is a euphemism.

And, straight-away, the Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And what is going on here? What is the temptation?

Well; the compilers of the lectionary struck gold this morning when they paired this spare Gospel with the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac on Mt. Moriah. The key words from Mark line up exactly with the key phrases in Genesis 22 which shows us not only what’s going on with these two pericopes, but more: what’s going on with the whole story the scriptures tell, the one and only—as Erich Auerbach said in his classic ‘Mimesis’:

“The world of the scripture stories is not satisfied with being an historically true reality—it insists it is the only real world, is destined for autocracy… scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, do not seek to flatter, please, or enchant us—they seek to subject us, and if we refused to be subjected we are rebels.”

Which is kinda what Lent is about. Our crazy, sinful rebellion against God. Our plan to be gods ourselves. And how has that been working out, for you? Uh-huh.

Gen. 22 starts with “After these things, God tested Abraham.” You should know Greek and Hebrew have just one word contextually translated “tempt” or “test”. Is this a test or temptation? Yes!

After his baptism, Jesus is driven out into the desert to be tempted/tested by Satan. Same as God did to Abraham. Same as we experience every day.

And the testation (my own coinage) is the same. Robert Alter points out: no English translation orders the Hebrew of 22:2 correctly. God commands, “take your son” and Abraham is thinking, ‘which one?’ and God says “your only one” and Abraham is thinking, ‘I have two sons—Ishmael and Isaac’; and God says, “your beloved” and Abraham is like ‘I love my sons equally’; only last does God go, “Uh-huh: “Isaac”. Gotcha. We all have our favorites—God knows.

But God puts himself to the same test, at Jesus’ baptism. Some Greek manuscripts capture the anguish in the Father’s voice with a more terse, ‘my son, my beloved—good gloried!

Good glory, indeed! We see, flipping back (there’s a lot of flipping back and forth between the OT and Gospel in this homily, sorry!) to Abraham what he’s commanded to do with his son, his only, his beloved, Isaac. “Offer him up as a burnt offering on the mountain which I shall tell you.”

Whoa. Yeah…

Auerbach again says: it’s all background in God’s story. Nothing is said, directly. You need to have a good translation and keen ear for details—one of which, you find out later, is that Mt. Moriah is the mountain on which Jerusalem is built. (!!!)

“The temple mount or Golgotha’s?” Great question! Yes? The Jews thought they had their temple on the exact spot. I think Jesus shows they were close, but Golgotha seems the exact spot. It is worth a trip, if you ever have the chance. Check ‘em both out, see what your gut tells you. Dome of the Rock? Or Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Not a tough call for me… 😉

Anyway, it is the same testation for Abraham, for Jesus—actually, for the Triune God! Will the Father really slay his only beloved Son? When the Son pleads in the Garden on the way to Golgotha’s grim summit: “Father; if you are willing, let this cup pass from me,” do you think it is not a testation for the Father?! Do you think it was easy for the Father to go silent, in response? Surely there was a plan B that was possible for him for whom all things are possible?!!!

Deep… stuff. Maybe now, you’re feeling what Lent is really all about—the most difficult time of the year. And if it’s hard for us, think how much harder for Father, Son, and Spirit! Not being able to sin doesn’t make temptation easier—as Lewis said in ‘Mere Christianity’. It actually makes it exponentially more wrenching.

Seeing Mt. Moriah afar (this ‘seeing’ becomes significant, in a minute—keep it in mind), leaving the slave boys, taking his beloved Isaac, who goes: “My father… behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?” Boy doesn’t miss a trick, does he? “Did you have a happy childhood, or are you funny?”

And the answer, anguish in Abraham’s voice matching the Father’s at Jesus’ baptism:

“God will see for himself the lamb for the offering, my son.” The triple entendre at the end: that the lamb God is “seeing” is… ‘my son, my only, my beloved’ Isaac—in whose loins Jesus is present always already on that grim mountain, about to go under the knife.

Literally, the Hebrew is “God will SEE (not ‘provide’) for himself” Yes, metaphorically it is “seeing to it”—a ‘provision’. But, God’s seeing for himself the lamb, and Abraham’s seeing Mt. Moriah all line up weightily (the Hebrew kabod and Greek δοξα which translates as ‘glory’ is literally “WEIGHT, unimaginably heavy”) and remember: the Father’s call to Jesus: ‘my son, my beloved, God glorified’, the greatest weight—heavy on the Father’s heart, on ours, on the cross, on Golgotha…

I think I ruin it a little bit, explaining all these connections, but it can’t be helped if you’ve never been taught a bit of Greek or Hebrew, modern translation won’t let you see it (see what I did there: 😉 Reading Auerbach’s Mimesis helps, too.

The climactic scene: Isaac bound, Abraham raising the knife; and the Angel of the LORD (not the LORD but the Angel who is Christ Jesus) sparing Isaac’s life, so he himself can stand in, horribly, later, on that spot)…

“Abraham. Do not lay your hand on the boy; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

And could it be… that Abraham’s not withholding his only son guilts God into offering up his own? Surely, not?!!! But… ??? Abraham did go first, temporally speaking.

And the ram caught in the thicket, offered up (lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world), relief for Abraham, the weight all on the Father, Son, and Spirit’s shoulders.

I think Moses and Mark are right not to say much—to let the dark, heavy background of Moriah say it all, leave the glory of it all, the weight, the anguish powerfully… suggested.

Abraham’s last word is apropos. He called the place YHWH SEES, because: ‘On this mount it shall be seen’. Yes. Only on Golgotha can we see what true love is. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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