Abraham, being an exemplar of faith, is quick to obey when he hears God calling him to sacrifice his son on a distant mountain (Genesis 22:1-19). This involves having the kid carry wood up to the summit, so that the old man can build an altar. The boy must then stand still, while ancient Abraham binds him to that altar. Then the boy will die and Abraham will go home to face Sarah. That is the plan. There isn’t a social service agency in the country that wouldn’t convict Abraham of child abuse for even considering it.
Traditionally, Christians have seen this story as an Old Testament precursor to Jesus’ death on the cross. The temple mountain in Jerusalem, where Jesus was bound and sacrificed, is thought to be the same mountain where Abraham brought his sacrifice. The question, “What do you do to please God?” hangs over both stories.
The shalom response to this question, however, is found at the end of the Old Testament in a minor prophet named Micah. He asks the question, “Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Then considering everything his faith has taught him about finding shalom in each of the three circles of life, Micah rejects the traditional answers that link religion with sacrifice. He writes:
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
I believe that the focus of our religion shouldn’t be on erasing our sins. It should instead be upon learning how to live with humility, mercy, and compassion. It should be on making the world a better place through acts of justice and ecological wisdom. We should be compassionate parents, rather than abusive ones. We should be day to day disciples of Jesus, loving people as he loved them. Our reading of scripture should teach us humility, rather than knowledge. Our joy should be in the diversity of God’s blessings, rather than the complexity of our interpretations. This thinking brought about a paradigm shift in how I read the Bible.