Violence in God’s Name

February 28, 2021; Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a,10-13, 15-18; 3rd Sunday of Lent

Today’s first reading is a real problem. It seems that God is asking Abraham to kill his son as a religious sacrifice. We do not believe that God would ask that of anyone. So, how do we understand this passage? We need to place it within its historical context. This is an ancient story which was composed at a time when human sacrifice was sometimes seen as acceptable. During a plague or famine, some people concluded that offering to God what was dearest to them, a son or daughter, would win God’s favor. But the very purpose of this story is to reject any such idea. You can see it at the end of the passage when Abraham raises a knife to kill his son. God sends an angel to stop him. The angel says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy. Do not do the least thing to him.”

This story is the bible’s way of saying that God does not accept and will not tolerate human sacrifice. It also says that any act of coercive violence is rejected by God, even if it is proposed in God’s name. This passage calls us to be nonviolent people. We should be people of peace both in our relationships and in our society.

In a marriage or friendship, it is not acceptable to use the commitment we have with another person as leverage to get our own way. It is wrong to belittle, threaten, or manipulate those close to us to attain what we want. God rejects any use of force to push another person into compliance. If we have been given authority as an employer, a teacher, a coach, or a mentor, it is not acceptable to coerce the people who look up to us. We might have true authority to make important decisions, but we should never treat those under us unjustly or violently. As we try to find our place in the currents of the present political situation, we might truly believe that our position is right. We may even believe that God supports the position we take. But we can never use lies and violence to obtain our goals. Being right does not allow us to be violent. Threatening the life or property of another person is contrary to God’s will.

Amidst these issues of violence, there is reason to hope. If we are a person attracted to anger or violence, we believe that God has the power to change us. During this Lenten season, we open ourselves to change. We come before the Lord and ask God to make us peaceable disciples. God has the power to replace force with dialogue, anger with acceptance, and violence with peaceful witness to the truth.

In these forty days of Lent we should ask God to make such changes in our hearts. As right as it might seem at a particular time to look at another person and say, “I’m going to put her in her place. I know how to bend them to do my will. I can use force to tear him down,” the message that comes to us is the same message the angel delivered to Abraham: “Do not lay your hand on the boy. Do not do the least thing to him.”

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