by Father Mike Stubbs
“Maria, Maria, they call the wind Maria.” That’s how the song from the musical “Paint Your Wagon” goes. It always comes to mind, when I hear Sunday’s first reading — Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18. In it, God instructs Abraham to travel to the land of Moriah, to sacrifice there his only son Isaac.
The exact location of the land of Moriah remains a mystery. However, the Book of Genesis attaches the name “Yahweh-yireh” to the place where Isaac was to be sacrificed, which it also calls, “the mountain of the Lord.” Several candidates could present themselves as possibilities to be considered “the mountain of the Lord,” Mount Sinai, for example.
But later tradition identified this particular mountain of the Lord as the mount in Jerusalem where eventually the Temple was built. Within the Temple was a huge boulder, on top of which the altar was erected. Tradition further claimed that this was the exact spot where Isaac was to be sacrificed.
No historical evidence supports this claim. But it makes theological sense. The faith of Israel was based on Abraham’s faith, which he demonstrated by his willingness to sacrifice his only son Isaac. It was appropriate for the Temple, the visible sign of Israel’s faith, to stand upon the site of the planned sacrifice. It all fits together.
We might compare the link between the Temple Mount and the sacrifice of Isaac to the link between Simon Peter’s faith and the establishment of the church. When Jesus asks Simon who he thinks Jesus is, Simon responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) Jesus reacts by telling Simon, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Just as Israel was built upon the faith of Abraham, the church would be built on the faith of Simon Peter. Just as the Temple would be built over the rock where Isaac was to be sacrificed, Christ’s church would be built on Peter, the rock.
What can we take from this? The season of Lent challenges us to base our lives upon our faith in Jesus Christ. In that way, we will be following in the footsteps of Abraham and Simon Peter.
If their faith could serve as the foundation for an entire community, for a people, surely our faith can serve as the foundation for our lives. And what a firm foundation that will be.