Sacrifice and tradition

and I were talking about sacrifice recently, specifically in the Biblical tradition. Two of the most important events in the Bible, from a Christian perspective, are the Binding of Isaac and the Crucifixion. In both cases, taken at face value they represent a sacrifice of a beloved child for holy purposes. Abraham, of course, is eventually permitted to turn his knife away from Isaac, as if God had lost His nerve in this game of holy chicken. Christ is granted no such reprieve, but since He rises from the dead three days later, the sacrifice doesn’t have quite the inescapable permanence that the loss of a child usually entails.

I can remember as a small boy being told about Passover, the great miracle where God spared the Hebrews during the ten Mosaic plagues visited upon Egypt. (We didn’t say the word “Jew” in my Sunday school that I can recall – it was all “Hebrews” this and “Israel” that.) The question that pricks me today is why God would engage in mass murder of innocents. The first-born sons of the mothers of Egypt had little if anything to do with the enslavement of the Hebrews. They neither caused the situation, nor were in a position to ameliorate it. These were 10,000 Isaacs, taken unknowing to the altar and their hearts stilled for a lack of lamb’s blood on the doorpost, in pursuit of nothing more than petty vengeance and a political point.

And this was given unto the uncritical child that was me as glorious evidence of God’s power and mercy.

Many in the Christianized West like to think of themselves as standard bearers of goodness and mercy, favored in the eyes of God, but we are all heirs to a very bloody tradition. And not so far from it today, quite frankly. How many Iraqi mothers have wept over graves for our president’s petty vengeance and political points? There’s no lamb’s blood that will hold off a Hellfire missile or a Marine raid on suspected insurgents.