In the First Reading, Abraham offers his beloved son as a sacrifice to God. The Gospel Reading identifies Jesus as God’s beloved Son. The two readings together remind us that God offers his beloved Son as our sacrifice to God. Christ, our Passover lamb, is sacrificed for us. (1 Cor. 5:7).
And so the First Reading and the Gospel invite us to reflect on sacrifice. What is a sacrifice? And why would God want one, from Abraham or from us through Christ?
The first thing to see is that a sacrifice is a peculiar kind of gift.
In the case of ordinary gifts, which aren’t sacrifices, the person who gets the gift is the one who benefits from the gift-giving. That person has the thing given; and if that thing was good enough to give, it is a good thing to get too. So the gift-receiver is the primary beneficiary of ordinary gift-giving.
But a sacrifice is a different kind of gift. When one person gives something as a sacrifice, however great his gift is, in the giving of it he himself receives something of very great value. In sacrifice the gift-giver is the primary beneficiary of gift-giving.
To see this point, consider Maximilian Kolbe, who sacrificed his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek at Auschwitz.
The Nazis had randomly selected 10 prisoners to die, and Franciszek Gajowniczek was one of them. When he was picked, he cried out, “Oh, my poor wife! My poor children! I will never see them again!” But Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take Franciszek’s place. Kolbe knew that the selected prisoners would be slowly starved to death in a dark and airless bunker. But Kolbe offered his life for that of his fellow prisoner anyway. Witnesses reported afterwards that Kolbe prayed and sang hymns until the end when his voice failed.
In his sacrifice, Kolbe became a person in whom the beauty of love shone so brightly that his story now illumines all who hear about it. He gave his life to give life to Franciszek, but he himself received far more than he gave. Who would not want to be as lovely a soul as Kolbe was?
And so God, who lacks for nothing, is glad to have the gift of our sacrifices, not because he gets something great from them, but because we do.