As we enter into the Church’s holiest days and reflect on Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, another call to sacrifice more than a thousand years earlier gives insights into God’s plan for salvation and the power of faith.
There are many parallels how Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and how Christ was sacrificed for our sins. For one thing, both Isaac and Jesus were only-sons of God’s Promise. God told Abraham that his descendants would be named through Isaac. In turn Christ was the blessing to the every nation.
As commanded by God, Abraham and Isaac climbed a mountain in the land of Moriah for the sacrifice. That mountain is believed to be near Calvary, where Jesus was crucified. As they climbed, Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice. Jesus, the Son, also bore the wood for the sacrifice—the Cross.
When they reached the mountaintop and Isaac realized that there wasn’t an animal for the sacrifice, he didn’t resist when Abraham tied him up. As a young man, Isaac probably could have overpowered his elderly father and saved himself. Jesus also offered no resistance to his captors.
When God’s angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac, a ram appeared, taking the boy’s place for the sacrifice. Christ was the Lamb given in sacrifice.
The ram that Abraham sacrificed had to be cut from a thicket of thorns, which would have left the animal with a “crown” of thorns around its head. Christ, the Lamb, wore a crown of thorns.
Abraham didn’t know that this test would prefigure how the Father would give up His Son, but he didn’t hesitate to do God’s will, even when it seemed to contradict God’s promise that Isaac would make him the father of nations.
Said St. John Chrysostom, “You see the opposition between the commands and the promise? He enjoined things that were in contradiction to the promises, and yet not even so did the righteous man stagger, nor say he had been deceived.”
He gave Isaac up and God blessed him for it. “When we have proved that our mind is made perfect, and have shown that we disregard earthly things, then earthly things also are given to us; but not before; lest being bound to them already, receiving them we should be bound still.”
It’s interesting to note that God arranged for Abraham to give up his son first, making it look as though He, the Father was offering His own son out of debt, not grace, St. John Chrysostom said. That way, it appears that He first received something from us and so gave us all.
Even though God had told Abraham many years earlier that He could raise humans from the dead, the patriarch remembered and believed. (Heb. 11:19)
“…death had not yet entered in and yet He drew them at once to the hope of the resurrection, and led them to such full assurance, that when bidden, they even slay their own sons, and readily offer up those from whom they expected to people the world,” St. John Chrysostom said.
Although Abraham ultimately didn’t have to kill his son, his faith in God’s promises, especially that of the resurrection, enriches our understanding of the events of the Triduum.
According to St. Clement of Alexandria, “Isaac did everything but suffer, as was right, yielding the precedence in suffering to the Word. Furthermore, there is an intimation of the divinity of the Lord in his not being slain. For Jesus rose again after His burial, having suffered no harm, like Isaac released from sacrifice.”