4 Lessons to take from Angel Studio's "His Only Son" complemented by Bishop Barron's latest volume of the Word on Fire Bible.
Just one verse each day.
Providence decreed that His Only Sonarrived in my local theater on the same weekend the new Pentateuch volume of the Word on Fire Bible arrived in my mail.
The movie tells the story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, with help from Angel Studios, makers of The Chosen. Its remarkable success with a low budget and crowd-sourced distribution funding is worth celebrating. Its drama is strong, too, but if its theology is less so, Genesis commentary edited by Bishop Robert Barron is a great complement.
Watching Abraham’s story unfold on the screen is a great lesson in faith, hope, and charity and what they bring.
First, Abraham’s story shows that faith means leaving our country.
His Only Son opens with God, a glowing figure in white, telling Abraham, played by a brooding Nicolaus Mouawad, that he must sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, a three days walk to the north.
He tells his wife about the trip but not the sacrifice, and Sarah (by Sara Seyed) responds with the resignation the real Sarah must have had regarding Abraham’s surprising relationship with God.
“Make sure no harm will come to our son,” she says.
“God is with us,” is the best answer he can muster.
How could he agree to such a thing? The plot flashes back to 40 years earlier to explain. “I saw God. We must move to a land he will show me,” he tells her, and she objects, but follows.
Bishop Barron in the Word on Fire Genesis says that’s appropriate. In each of us, our self-obsessed ego “wants to rest in its own world. The voice of God will thus sound to the sinner as a voice from without, summoning him to adventure.”
Barron adds, “The entire narrative of the people Israel turns on this question: Do they listen or not?”
The movie effectively puts that question to the viewer. Would you set out after God into the dark? After all, that’s the very definition of faith.
Second: For Abraham, and for us, hope means “remembrance of the future.”
Abraham believes God’s promises and gets — nothing. After one massive undertaking at God’s command, Sarai tells him, “God has led you right into a famine.” Abraham answers, with grim determination: “The Lord has made a promise.”
As it turns out, that’s what hope is: Faith in a promise. The Word on Fire Bible quotes a provocative phrase from Pope Francis explaining how this works: “Faith, as remembrance of the future, memoria futuri, is thus closely bound up with hope.”
“Remembering the future” what the classic act of hope does, praying: “Lord God, I hope in you for grace and for glory because of your mercy, your promises and your power.”
Third: To love, we each have to sacrifice our Isaac.
A key turning point in the movie is when Abraham begs God to take him as a burnt offering instead of Isaac. You get the sense that this is the response God is looking for: Not that we should be willing to give someone else’s life for him, but that we should be willing to give our own.
Bishop Barron says in his commentary on Leviticus that this is part of the psychology of animal sacrifice. The penitent says by it: “What is happening to this animal by rights should be happening to me.”
We all have an Isaac we have to sacrifice — something good in itself but that we have prized above its place. Often, it’s something so close to us that it seems scandalous for God to ask for it: our health, our job, or a family relationship.
To give that thing up means to sacrifice our very self because we love God more.
Fourth: The Lord turns shame into glory.
The movie is a little heavy-handed in its eagerness to show that Isaac is a Christ figure. Edaan Moskowitz as Isaac is given Christ’s words to say on several occasions, including, at the altar, “Not my will but His be done.”
St. Ambrose uses a lighter touch to make the same point in the Word on Fire Pentateuch. He says of Isaac: “By his very name he prefigures grace. For Isaac means laughter, and laughter is the sign of joy. Now everyone knows that [Jesus] is the joy of all.”
How do we know? I don’t want to spoil it. You’ll find it in the last images of the movie.