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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Archetypes of Christ - Isaac

Abraham's trial is a quintessential example for any of us experiencing sorrow or struggle.  Mirroring the format of my last post (an imagined mindview of the woman who sought to touch the hem of Jesus's cloak in order to be healed), I'd like to offer another story from the Bible: the binding of Isaac, or Akedah – this time from Isaac's perspective.

"Bind my wrists, papa."  I don't want to subconsciously rebel; I love my dad and will follow God’s will.  Isaac lifted his strong arms toward his aged father.  Abraham hesitated, but realized what his son was thinking and nodded as he picked up the straps.  "I trust you, dad."  Isaac said, as he climbed on the altar, laid down, and shut his eyes to the skies above.

It was only a few days earlier that the terrifying revelation had come.  Abraham had received many communications from God, but this one was incredibly alarming and confusing: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering.”

“Sacrifice him!?” Isaac had overheard his father exclaim to his mother that night.  “My own father tried to sacrifice me!  I thought this sort of practice was offensive to God!”

I’m his miracle baby, Isaac thought.  The one to fulfill the promises God made to him.  His heart ached as he considered his half-brother Ishmael, whom Abraham had already lost a few years before – it was tortuous to see him leave.  And now he’ll lose me – his chosen son, through whom humankind would be blessed.

“You know this is from God?” Isaac heard his mother inquire.  “Yes,” Abraham replied.  “He’s never led you astray before,” she assured.  “I haven’t always understood His methods or His timing, but I can’t deny the miracles He’s worked in our lives. I know you’ll do the right thing.”

“You’re right,” Isaac heard his dad finally declare.  “He’s promised Isaac will be a father to many.  If he really is to die now, I believe God could raise up our boy again to fulfill that promise.  He does not lie.”

Isaac's heart skipped a beat: I am to die, then.

The journey to Moriah had taken two days, and Abraham still hadn’t told his son what was to be.  I wonder how I should respond.  I should be scared.  Pain.  Suffering.  Death.  And yet… I am not afraid.  I see my life for what it is – a time to prove myself to God.  Could He really raise me back from the dead?

At the base of the mount, the small company stopped.  “We’ll need to take this wood to the top,” Abraham said, motioning to his servants.  Two men gratefully laid their burden upon Isaac.  This is heavy, he thought.  His back muscles ached as he balanced the load well enough to walk.

As the two made their way up the rocky climb, Isaac asked, “Where is our offering, dad?”  He doesn’t know I know.  “God will provide the lamb,” had been his answer to the question before.  I wonder how he’ll ask.  My every thought these past two days has been on how to respond.  I’ve tried to follow my dad and God throughout my life.  I’m not always the best, but I trust Them and I will try…

“The sacrifice… is to be you, my son.  I don’t totally understand why, but that is what the Lord has asked.  What do you think?  Would you…”

“Yes!” Isaac blurted out.  “Even if it was just you who asked, dad, I would do it.  But because I know it came from God, I am doubly willing.  My very life is a miracle and gift from God – I am willing to give it back.”

“My boy,” Abraham responded.  “You have been my support and strength for so long, but now will have to do so from the other side.”  As they finished their climb, they reminisced, recounting their blessed lives together.  Reaching their destination, they prepared the altar, and Isaac placed the load of wood upon it.

“Bind my wrists, papa.”  Isaac laid on the altar as his father tied his hands and feet.  “I trust you, dad.” He saw his dad’s trembling hands clench the knife, and just before his eyes closed, he caught a glimpse of his dad’s own eyes, painful yet determined.  He’s terrified, Isaac thought as he plunged into darkness.  And yet beneath that terror there’s a fire.  Faith.  Complete submission to the will of God.  A knowledge that regardless of what happens, things will be ok.

He could hear the robe rustle as his father raised the killing instrument.  Are things going to be ok??  Maybe I’m not really ready to die!  What about my family?  There’s so much more I want to do in life!  His arms reflexively strained against the bands that held him.  There must be another way!…

No.  There's no mistaken what must be done.  I can do this, he determined.  I will go to my God.  I will be what He asks of me.  He stopped fighting the restraints, and relaxed his arms, relinquishing himself completely.

Immediately, Isaac felt a wave of peace flow over him.  And then a warmth and bright light that pierced through his closed lids.  He opened them to a blinding figure above, gripping his father’s outstretched arm.  “Abraham,” the penetrating voice commanded, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad…”

My life is spared! Isaac rejoiced, his tears matching his overflowing emotions – and those of his father.  God be praised!

You were willing to give it all, Isaac felt a different Voice say to him.  You, indeed, shall fulfill all the promises I have made.  You have been saved, while I will face a different end when I, doing my Father’s will, offer myself up as Savior of the world.  These tests are meant to try you in the deepest way possible.  All will be tried as you and your father have.  Those hearts that can stand the wrenching will be fit for the kingdom of God.

A willing ram had come to offer itself, caught by devil’s snares to hold it back.  At the angel’s command, Isaac's place on the altar was turned over to the ram.

Isaac was caught up in the embrace of his father. “Well done, my son,” Abraham whispered.

“Thanks, papa,” Isaac answered as they started down the mountain.  “God did provide his own lamb in the end.  He has again given me the gift of life – I will make Him proud of how I use it.”

References: Genesis 22:1-19, Hebrews 11:19, “Antiquities of the Jews” by Josephus, “Power from Abrahamic Tests” by Truman Madsen

Friday, November 11, 2016

Can He heal me?

The Gospel's account of the Savior's healing a woman with an issue of blood provides a powerful lesson for those dealing with issues of shame, doubt, or despair.  Taking some (major) scriptural liberties, I'd like to share a possible version of this account from the woman's perspective:

Jesus.  The 'Holy Man,' she thought.  Although it had only been a few weeks since He had begun to visit the nearby towns, the rumors about this godlike Man spread like hungry flames across a dry grassland.

Some said He was a revolutionary or a lunatic, others a wise teacher or even something more than human.  Her belief in the legends about His ability to cure, however, was the major force pulling her to the street she worked her way towards now.

He is a Healer.  For 12 years I have suffered...  Could He be the answer?  Once a well-functioning member of the community, she was now completely penniless, having spent over a decade on doctor after doctor...  She didn't know how it had actually come about, but the constant bleeding that had started those 12 years before had turned her life into a nightmare.

It wasn't so bad at first.  A "niddah" had to avoid contact with anyone for seven days every month during that part of a woman's cycle - the blood making her "unclean."  She assumed this bleeding was related to that and would soon stop so she could get back to her life.

But it didn't, and she hadn't.

The seemingly permanent status of "unclean" created a wedge between her and her friends.  One by one, they began to avoid her.  She was banned from attending synagogue.  Her husband writing a bill of divorcement and casting her out like a broken piece of furniture was the final crushing blow.  12 years.  I'm so tired.  Tired of being alone, hated, hopeless...

It was a long shot, and she knew it.  But something inside of her pushed her on to join with the massive crowd gathering.  She edged her way nearer the center of the street, luckily finding herself only a few people away from the open space that allowed the approaching small procession to pass.

That's Him.  I can feel it.  But there are so many people.  And Jairus is with Him.  Jairus was the synagogue ruler, with whom she had had no contact since that fateful day so many years ago.

Her heart dropped.  I shouldn't be here.  Even touching the people around her was making them unknowingly unclean.  She felt awful.  I should go, she thought. What was I thinking?  Every person in this multitude is more deserving of His power than I am.  And yet, something was making her stay.

She crouched as some of His disciples walked by.  Her heart pounded as she saw Him approaching.  You'll make Him unclean!  a voice shouted inside.  You'll ruin His ability to help others!  But... maybe if I just touch a bit of His clothing...  The recent legends talked about Jesus using only His hands or voice to enact the miracle in someone's life.  I don't deserve that.  I shouldn't even be here.

He was only a few steps away now, and she caught a glimpse of His face.  This is no ordinary man.  A rush of emotions flooded through her, the most powerful telling her the legends were true.  I believe.  I don't deserve it, but I believe even just touching a tassel of his robe will heal me.

She knelt and leaned forward between the rows of people crammed in front of her, reaching towards the approaching Man.  Everything in her head told her she was foolish to expect anything and would be punished someday for this.  Her heart, however, was convinced.  As her fingers closed the gap to the fringe of his robe, she remembered her teachings about the hem or border of a garment symbolizing that person's authority.  His authority has healed others.  It can heal me.

A final thrust of her arm put her off balance, her face beginning to fall to the hard cobblestone road below.  And then...  For a split second, her fingers grazed the robe.

Such power.  Immediately, she felt her wound closing and the bleeding stop.  She wondered in amazement, trying to pull herself back to her knees.  I'm clean!  Over a decade of suffering, and it's over!

The elation didn't last long.  The procession had stopped and the Man turned to the teeming throng.  "Who touched me?"  The question came quietly, with no rebuke.  Sudden guilt slapped her in the face and she started to shrink back into the crowd, thinking to run.  He knows.  I can't run from a God.

Trembling, she struggled to her feet and pushed through those ahead, falling down at the Man's feet.  "I... I touched your robe," she stammered.  "I heard of your power to heal and thought if I could just touch your robe, I could be rid of my 12-year plague."  She glanced up for a moment, "and it worked.  But I didn't mean... I'm sorry... I..."

You thought your life was hard with mortals spurning you.  You have now earned the spurning of a God...

"Daughter," He interrupted.  His voice was powerful and commanding now, yet somehow soft and soothing.  "Be of good comfort.  Thy faith hath made thee whole.  Go in peace."

She wept.  Tears flowed down her cheeks, eagerly splashing to the dusty street below.  She had never felt such love in the past 12 years, or even in her life.  Her eyes connected again with His.  Mortal with Divine.  Thank you! she exclaimed, though no words exited her lips.  The message was clear, however, and He responded with a look that enveloped her being.  You deserve it, child, she felt Him say.  You are mine just as these, and I love you.

References:  Matt. 9:18-22, Mark 5:22-34, Luke 8:41-48, 1 Sam. 24:4 (see footnote 4a)