3 knocks: Knock, knock, knock (believe it or not, this is not a knock-knock joke). 3 knocks, followed by a long silence. “Who is there?”
Otto of Austria; once Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary; Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia, of Dalmatia… And a very long list follows.
A long silence, then the reply: “We don’t know him.”
They will knock again and the same thing will happen with all the Academic titles and titles of honour. “We don’t know him.” And so it will go on until the reply has come down to: “Otto, a sinner.”
“Then, come in.”
This has become an age-old ritual when a descendent of the former imperial Habsburg family dies and the family seeks entry to the family crypt to lay their family member to rest.
Today’s Hebrew Bible reading tells us the well-known story of Abraham who is ready to sacrifice his own son.
If you were the Master of Ceremony of Abraham’s funeral, how would you announce him at the door of the crypt?
“This is Abraham, father of the nations, patriarch of the Monotheistic Religions, prototype of all believers, great and faithful servant of God… Etc. Etc.”? Would that be your introduction?
Who was/is this Abraham? A superhero of the faithful? Believe it or not, on your reply depends the way in which you understand the 5 Books of Moses and, in fact, the whole story of salvation in the Hebrew Bible.
Abraham is the highly admired example for faithfulness and trust in God. Yes, rightly so.
But have you ever had a look at his criminal record?
His criminal record is long and horrible. Where a Police Record Check for most people has an empty table with the note “negative”, his record check had the remark: “Please turn over, page 1 out of many”.
Mass murder, marriage to a close relative, abandonment of a child, sexual abuse of dependants, giving his own wife to other men, slavery… Quite something and the list goes on…
This superhero turns out to be a coward, as soon as we look at it a bit closer. He did what he was told without asking and later tried to avoid the consequences by blaming others: when Sarah tells him to abuse their slave woman Hagar, there he goes. When Sarah suddenly realizes that her plan worked and Hagar became pregnant, Sarah wants her out of the house. Abraham sends her away into the desert, actually twice, knowing well that this was a death sentence for mother and son and they only survived because of God’s intervention.
Abraham is always ready to sacrifice, but never himself, always others. That is why every comparison between the sacrifice of Abraham’s son and the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ is wrong.
When Abraham is afraid that mighty Pharaoh could kill him in order to get his wife, Abraham comes up with the lie that Sarah was his sister and therefore free for Pharaoh to marry. To protect himself, Abraham is ready to sacrifice his wife and the life of Pharaoh and it is God who has to prevent Pharaoh from taking Sarah as his wife. And then, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his own son without even wrestling with God or asking.
The only time Abraham stood up and wrestled with God was for Sodom and Gomorrah, when he tried to strike a bargain with God and to save the cities. He wasn’t very successful from the perspective of the inhabitants of the two cities, after all they went up in fire and smoke. And maybe that was the reason that Abraham later turned into a passive being, giving up in face of the wrongs of this world; passively accepting.
From then on, he took orders without question. When it turned out badly, he always had someone to blame.
The Anglican tradition has always valued the gift of reason as fundamental for a believer. Yes, Holy Scripture is our first and main source of Divine Revelation, yes, God’s Word is our guiding lantern, but everything we hear, we feel, we understand, needs to be discerned.
It’s the more demanding way, because it forces the believer to think, to learn, to wrestle and – the hardest part – to decide. Following a good and bad scheme is much easier. Abraham demonstrated it: Do what you are told and you’ll have someone to blame, if it doesn’t work.
To hide behind the words, like it has happened so often in our history is easy but not God’s call for us: Christians arguing for the legitimacy of slavery and race inequality with the Bible in hand, Christians condemning same-sex love and partnerships, Christians silencing women… Oh yes, it is easy to just follow but as Christians we are called to engage with the realities of others and to use reason as an interpreter of God’s word for our world, in our time.
And it is also easy to try once to change something in this world and then to give up because it didn’t work. As Christians we are called to keep trying, not just to mourn about issues in this world like systemic racism. We are called to do our part, speak up, be self-aware and honest that non of us is perfect, but we are called to always continue to strive for the righteousness of the Kingdom of God; knowing that we alone can’t ever achieve it, but with God’s Blessing, we can.
How would you announce Abraham?
Remember, on your answer depends your whole understanding of the Salvation Story.
Abraham is so often depicted as the super-hero of faith and we look up to him and the other supposed stars, while he wasn’t and that is a main line in the whole Hebrew Bible: God chose Abraham not because he was perfect. God chose him like She has chosen you and me, fully aware of our imperfections. We are called to bring them into our service and God embraces us with them. The Good News in the Hebrew Bible is constantly that God has chosen normal people who keep failing, again and again and again. Think of the Israelites in the desert: God saves them and the next day they lose faith again. The good news is, God has chosen them and remains faithful, no matter what.
People like Abraham, you and me are called into discipleship, a task that is equally impossible like for a camel to go through the eye of a needle but with God it is possible.
Rejoice therefore in your vocation and trust that God will lead you. Before you follow an idea blindly, make use of God’s gift of reason and before you give up in face of injustice and suffering in the world, remember that God trusts in you and your ability to change something for the better and so to prepare this world for the coming of the Kingdom.