04 July.Thursday of Week 13

1st Reading: Genesis 22:1-19

If God directs him, Abraham is prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

Responsorial: Psalm 114:1-6, 8-9

Response: I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.

I love the Lord for he has heard
the cry of my appeal;
for he turned his ear to me
in the day when I called him. (R./)
They surrounded me, the snares of death,
with the anguish of the tomb.
They caught me, sorrow and distress.
I called on the Lord’s name. O Lord my God, deliver me! (R./)
How gracious is the Lord, and just;
our God has compassion.
The Lord protects the simple hearts;
I was helpless so he saved me. (R./)
He has kept my soul from death,
my eyes from tears and my feet from stumbling.
I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8

Cureing the paralysed man proves Jesus’ power to forgive sin

Getting into a boat Jesus crossed the sea and came to his own town. And just then some people were carrying a paralyzed man lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Then some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”–he then said to the paralytic–“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.” And he stood up and went to his home. When the crowds saw it, they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.


Learning a lesson

The story of the Binding of Isaac, which Jewish tradition simply calls “The Binding” (“Akedah”), is a real challenge to Christian interpreters. But its opening sentence tells us in advance that God was testing Abraham. This lets us (the readers) know from the outset that it was never God’s will for human beings to kill other people as a form of worship. Abraham was sincere but  misguided in thinking that God wanted human sacrifice.
What an interesting contrast there is between the responses of Abraham and the Pharisees, on learning that their first opinions were mistaken. The Pharisees were orthodox in their theology that only God can forgive sin – but misguided in thinking that forgiveness should not be dispensed on the Sabbath. It is clear that even good intentions (on Abraham’s part) and rigid ideas (on the Pharisees’ part) cannot go unchallenged. One of the most difficult of tasks is to help good people see that they have room for improvement, or to show them a dark side of their character to which they are blind. Like the dark side of the moon which is never seen from earth, a good man can be oblivious of his failings.
Abraham made careful preparations for the sacrifice of Isaac, because he wanted to do what he thought was required of him. All the Canaanites of his time believed it was their sacred duty to sacrifice their firstborn son to the gods. The heroic demand made of Abraham echoes in the opening line, “Take your son, Isaac, your only one, the one you love.” Each syllable of the command wrenches the fibres of his heart. He is to go to the land of Moriah; the place was later identified with the site of the Jerusalem temple. Perhaps heroic impulses are permitted by God so that we can discover a vision of something else. When he got that new vision of mercy and compassion, Abraham at once changed his plans and obeyed the real will of God.
Are our minds open to correction, willing to learn that some of our traditionals about ritual need to change, radically? Without abandoning the Mass as a sacrifice, we are challenged to celebrate it in such a way that our people can really feel a part of what is happening around the altar. It is a sacrifice of praise, rather than a ritual of atonement.

Faith and goodwill

What a true spirit of friendship is shown by the four men carrying their friend on a stretcher. They were determined to get their paralyzed friend to this famous healer, whatever it might take. When the crowds around Jesus were too big to get their friend to him by the conventional route of the front door, they lifted him up onto the roof of the house and created an opening to lower their friend in front of Jesus. True friendship is the kind that opens up people to the presence of the Lord. The friends of the paralyzed man certainly did that.
It was a combination of goodwill and faith that led this man to Jesus. The energy behind their unorthodox actions was their love for their friend. When the man was lowered down into the room, it was the faith of his friends that Jesus recognized. The Gospel says, “seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man.” Paul in Galatians speaks about faith working through love. These four friends model for us the faith that finds expression in love. Today we pray for an increase of such faith in our lives.


Saint Elisabeth of Portugal

Elizabeth (Isabel) of Aragon (1271-1336) became wife of King Denis of Portugal, with whom she had a son and a daughter. Like her great-aunt Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, for whom she was named, Saint Elizabeth of Portugal dedicated herself to helping the poor. She established orphanages and provided shelter for the homeless; and also founded a convent in Coimbra. Known for settling disputes, she was admiringly called Isabel the Peacemaker, and proved an effective conciliator between opposing factions.

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