Do you trust me?
In the animated Disney classic Aladdin, that phrase, “Do you trust me?” is the theme to the whole story. It identified Aladdin – he asks it of Princess Jasmine on their first date, and he asks it again of her when he is a (poorly disguised) Prince Ali. (How Jasmine doesn’t see through that not-even-really-a-disguise is another reflection for another day.) But the reality is, the story hinges on the reverse of the question, as the plot moves along on the fuel of Aladdin’s inability to trust Princess Jasmine.
(If you have Alan Mencken songs stuck in your head for the rest of the night, well, you’re welcome.)
Professionally, I talk about trust all the time; it’s a lens through which to interpret the group dynamics of work teams that rings true. But THAT trust is something different, because trust at work is something built through history and consistency. It’s a trust built on expectation and predictability. I trust you, because I know from past experience what I can expect from you.
The readings for the Second Week of Lent speak to a different kind of trust, the trust that doesn’t make sense. The trust against better judgment. A trust we are called to, but may not in the end be able to sign off on.
The first reading is probably the hardest to swallow of any that make it into the lectionary of Mass readings: the sacrifice of Isaac. It’s hard for me to even read it, much less try to reconcile it with the God I know. In calling Abraham to sacrifice his only, long-promised son, God seems to be foreshadowing the sort of reckless dare that Satan tempts Jesus with in the desert (according to Matthew and Luke). Let me just say it: I can’t reconcile that depiction of God with anything I know to be holy. To project ahead that God knew all along how Abraham would answer and how God would respond to that answer so that everything worked out in the end is, frankly, a cop out.
But tonight I was made to realize something I hadn’t thought of before. God is not just playing the role of the tempter in this scene. God is also in the same boat with Abraham, because God has placed his bet that Abraham will be God’s guy, and, old as he is, God bets on Abraham to be the father of God’s people. If Abraham follows through on the sacrifice, it is not just Abraham who is bereft of a son; God also loses the future He promised to His guy. Both would face the daunting and unlikely future of starting over, very, very late in the game of Abraham’s life.
Do you trust me? The “binding of Isaac,” as it is called in a more sanitized form, is an affirmation that God and Abraham trust each other to get through even the worst imaginable outcome.
Look, if this is the trolley stop where people decide to get off the ride of Biblical faith, I’m in no place to cast blame. A God who calls for human sacrifice is a monstrous one, whether God does so as a test or really means it. But for those of us unable to just throw the story away, maybe what’s salvageable, especially right now is this: this God is also invested so much in us that if everything falls apart and the path forward turns to rubble, He remains on our side of the wreckage to help us find another way. Maybe that’s what Abraham sees when God asks, in a scarily ultimate way, “Do you trust me?”
We just passed a half-million deaths to COVID-19 in the US, more than died from our country in World Wars I and II and Vietnam combined. There are a lot of families bereft tonight, lots of empty seats at tables. A God who would call for that to happen isn’t one worth worshipping, in my flawed estimation. But a God who will trust us enough to sit on our side of the tragic and cast His lot with us to rebuild something out of the ashes of loss? That’s a God I can recognize and trust.
Whether we’re currently in the midst of loss and sorrow, or we just are aware of what lurks around the corner, it’s a good question from God to us in Lent:
Do you trust Me?
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