‘God so loved the world that he sent his only son’. What a wonderful sentence to make clear our place within the family of Father, Son and Spirit. That is why the story we read today from the Book of Genesis about Abraham being asked to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, is so disconcerting. What kind of God would ask that?
I was visiting six year old Ciara in Crumlin Children’s Hospital recently. In that setting one can’t help being aware of the burden of grief and anxiety being carried by parents. It shows in their faces and in the way their bodies move as they sit by the bedside of very sick children. Instinctively, you feel that they would gladly give their own lives for their children.
In the account of the Transfiguration from the gospel of St Mark, Jesus invites Peter, James and John to climb a high mountain with him. What happens next is quite unexpected. At the summit, Jesus is literally transfigured as though he has been lit up from within. There he is speaking with Moses and the great prophet Ezechiel before a cloud descends and a voice is heard. In this defining moment, his frightened followers hear Jesus being named as the Father’s beloved son.
St Paul’s observation on this unique relationship is this; if God would give us his Son to lead us into the fullness of life there is nothing he would refuse us. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son’.
When it comes to Jesus’ death on the cross, it has always been important how we try to express what it means. Firstly, Jesus’ death fits into the mystery of innocent suffering. But we have also learned to say that Jesus died for our sins. Using Old Testament imagery the first theologians described him in that way as the lamb that was sacrificed or as the scapegoat chased out into the wilderness with the sins of the people on its back.
But there is something more to be said. It is this. According to St Francis de Sales and many others, the very intimacy of the Father and Son means that in the death of Jesus the Father’s love for us and for all creation is revealed. God is not an outsider looking on but is deeply involved, beyond our imagining, in Jesus’ self-sacrificing love for his friends. ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only Son.’
On top of a mountain the story of who we are unfolds. We too, are the beloved of God. We know ourselves best when we can accept that every child is a child of God and indeed, for the Creator, every lamb is a lamb of God! The love story of Father, Son and Spirit goes on and we are blessed to be part of that amazing story.
Hugh O’Donnell, SDB, Ireland