Genesis 22 tells the story of God testing Abraham. God’s test consists of Abraham taking his son, Isaac, to Mount Mariah where he is to sacrifice him and then burn his body on an altar. Abraham does as he’s instructed. He makes the journey, lays his son on the altar, and raises a knife to end Isaac’s life. But before he can bring the blade down, an angel grabs Abraham’s hand and stops him from completing the deed. The point of the story is meant to demonstrate Abraham’s commitment to God and his faith.
I saw this scene play out with three different Abrahams and three different commitments in the latest episode of The Leftovers, “Cairo.”
Our first Abraham, Jill, takes her knife and must decide whether to free or sacrifice the dog that has been incessantly barking outside her home. Though no angel appears to stop her, her decision to free her “sacrifice” actually symbolizes her commitment to her new belief – solidified with the revelation found inside the “Trouble” box and demonstrated by her decision to join her mother at the Guilty Remnant house.
Kevin Garvey, Jr.
Our second Abraham, Kevin, takes his knife and must decide whether to free or sacrifice Patti Levin. The scene plays out as a modern abstract of Genesis 22. The sacrifice is on the altar. Abraham has his knife. We even have a Guardian Angel (as Dean says he prefers to see himself) on the scene. Of course, this angel is not present to stop the execution but seems to be trying to accomplish exactly the opposite. Ironically, however, Dean does say to Patti that he tried – a comment that would have left less mystery if he had been there to save the sacrifice. It’s easier to accept the exchange when we see that our sacrifice is determined to be just that. She has found her purpose and tells her Abraham, “We don’t want love or answers, just purpose – something to live for – something to die for.”
The show’s creators make a point of showing us a particular image on the back wall of the cabin in the scene. If we look closely, we can see there is an image of two deer. In medieval times, the deer had significant religious meaning. It was the enemy of the snake and would pursue serpents back into their holes. The snake has long been the symbol of Satan. The horse’s war on snakes made them a symbol of Christ in many early Catholic bestiaries. This image of Christ being present at the scene in the cabin brings us to our last Abraham.
Our final Abraham, Patti, takes a blade of glass and must decide whether to free herself or sacrifice herself. Unlike the first two Abrahams, this one goes through with the sacrifice – just as Christ did. Throughout the centuries, theologians have connected the story of Abraham and the story of God sacrificing his son, Jesus, on the cross. Many refer to Jesus as a new Abraham – an Abraham that places himself on the altar and sacrifices his life for the followers around him. I believe in Patti’s mind, that’s exactly what she has done.
The story in Genesis 22 concludes with Abraham calling the place of the near-sacrifice on the mountain “The Lord Will Provide” as a remembrance of the event that took place there. Sacrifices are remembered best through memorials. “Cairo” reminded us over and over again: Memorial Day is coming. The altar in Mapleton Park seems set. What (or who) will be the sacrifice?