The literary juxtaposition of Abraham with Isaac on the mountain, where Abraham was asked by God to offer his son in sacrifice, and Jesus on the mountain transfigured in the presence of his disciples, helps us to think about Jesus as the divine sacrifice acceptable to the Father.
In the book of Genesis, Isaac is to take the place of a spotless, unblemished lamb which Abraham would otherwise have sacrificed to God. He bears on his back the wood for the sacrifice, and trusts that his father Abraham knows what he is doing, even though he sees (in the longer version of the story) that they have no sacrificial lamb with them.
In the episode from the Gospel, the Father is present as the voice from heaven which says, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Thus Jesus is shown to be the beloved and thus acceptable sacrificial lamb in all his divine glory, the Lamb of God soon to be sacrificed on the wood of the Cross, which he will carry to Calvary.
We know how both stories turn out, from countless hearings. Abraham is told by God not to sacrifice Isaac after all, since God has seen Abraham's faithfulness, and instead the Lord provides a ram for the holocaust in place of Isaac. Jesus becomes the ram offered up on the Cross to God in our place, so that we need not suffer the full price of our own sins.
Saint Paul's words can echo in our hearts as a way of shedding light on what happens in these other two episodes. "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?"
If God is for us, not even our own sins - if we repent of them - can separate us from his love. Who can be against us if the Lord is on our side? Abraham knew this, and trusted in the Lord's promises. Jesus knew this, and delivered his own body to be tortured, mutilated, mocked, reviled, and killed. Jesus knew that God was for him, and Jesus knew that no one who stood against him could make a difference in that, in the end.
Just as Isaac was released from the bonds of death which held him to the altar of sacrifice, so was Jesus raised up on the third day, released by the power of the Holy Spirit from the power of sin and death. In his resurrection, Jesus takes up the life which he had freely laid down, and the divine, transfigured Lord is once again revealed to his followers.
We are the beneficiaries of these tales from Scripture, which are not mere stories or literary devices but real evidence of God's love for us. Just as God saved Isaac from death, just as the Lord raised up the Son of God and destroyed the power of death, so too by the power of the Cross given to us through the sacraments does Jesus promise that new life to those who love him.
If God is for us, who can be against us? No one, no thing, no power on earth or in hell can stand against those who have allowed Jesus to wash them in the covenant of his blood and present them as a new creation to his Father.
Fr. John G. Stillmank is Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Madison and pastor of St. Andrew Parish, Verona, and St. William Parish, Paoli.