I feel a little sheepish (no pun intended) making this post. I feel that way when God gives me an insight into Scripture and suddenly things seem so much clearer. I think, "Why didn't I see that before?"
Let me explain. Yesterday evening at Mass we heard the story of the testing of Abraham by God in Genesis 22. You know the story. "God said: 'Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.'" Abraham prepares to do just that, and at the last moment, when the knife is raised above the terrified boy, the angel of the Lord stops Abraham, saying, "I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son."
This story causes problems for a lot of people, especially parents, who are better able than I am to place themselves in Abraham's position, feel his confusion and anguish, and wonder, "Just what does this reveal about God, and can I really trust such a deity?" It seems cruel to test Abraham, to seemingly ask him to kill his hope in a multitude of descendants, and it leads many people to view the greatest evils in our life as directly willed by God to test our faith.
Yesterday, however, a young woman proclaimed the passage beautifully, and I heard it again for the first time. One passage in particular brought me close to tears.
"Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. 'Father!' he said. 'Yes, son,' he replied. Isaac continued, 'Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?' 'Son,' Abraham answered, 'God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.' Then the two continued going forward."
The image of Isaac carrying the wood for the holocaust on his shoulders struck me as a foreshadowing of Jesus, who would carry the cross - the wood of his own holocaust - on his shoulders some two millenia later. This is a beautiful example of the Catholic understanding that all of the Bible must be read in light of Jesus and the events of his life, death, resurrection and ascension. ("The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God's works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son. Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen." Catechism of the Catholic Church #128, 129)
As soon as the image of Isaac as a "type" of Christ struck me, the response of Abraham, "God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust." took on a new significance - that of a prophetic and deeply faith-filled statement, rather than simply wishful thinking, or deception.
Indeed, God did provide a sheep for the holocaust, not just the ram caught in the thicket, but the Lamb of God, His only begotten Son of whom he could say, "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased." (Mk 1:11)
The first Adam failed to place himself between the serpent, the most cunning ("intimidating" is another possible translation) of all the creatures, and his wife, Eve. He was not willing to possibly "lay down his life" for her, and the whole narrative thread of Scripture leads up to the second Adam who finally lays down his life for us all, fulfilling the Law in his life, and putting and end to it with his death and resurrection.
God's time, God's infinite patience and wisdom, are revealed in the Scriptures. If we are patient and observe the events of our own life with the eyes of faith, we will undoubtedly find examples of this wisdom being revealed in them as well.