Posts Tagged sacrifice
So, at the sacred Seder supper that Yeshua bar Yosef (Jesus of Nazareth) shared with his close Jewish friends he dared to suggest they replace the traditional offerings, meant to remind the Jews of their salvation from Egypt, with something new; bread and wine, shared from that time forward in honor of him. Pretty radical. Pretty scandalous, actually. Definitely heretical.
But what was his purpose? Did he want to toss out one religious custom, replacing it with another? Was the broken bread primarily as a poetic reminder of his body broken on the cross? Was the red wine a really a metaphor for the spilled blood of the “lamb of God”? Was this last meal meant to be a symbolic representation of the personal offering God would need of Yeshua, the “perfect” sacrifice made so that we Christian believers might be home free?
Is that all we are to get out of the symbolism of bread and wine? – a reminder that we have been ‘saved’. But then what does it mean to drink from Yeshua’s cup – why is this such a challenge for us?
Holy Communion is not just a mystical or symbolic meal – a sacrament (though it is that as well). It is a reminder of what we are to do if we are to follow Jesus: to sacrifice our lives and, if necessary, die. Not for Jesus (Yeshua). Not for God. But for other people. Even our enemies. Just as he did.
He wasn’t laying down a new religious tradition – creating a new ritual. He was proposing a new course of action, one that required no religion.
Boy, did we blow it.
According to Genesis, after Adam and Eve are thrown out of Eden, their offspring pioneer the first primitive industries. Two of their sons, Cain and Abel, are described as the first farmers and shepherds, respectively. They also practiced something that was unknown to their parents in Eden: religion.
Although the story never suggests that God required it, both Cain and Abel religiously sacrifice a portion of their harvest to God. God apparently was displeased with Cain’s burnt offering of grain and/or fruit, whereas he looked favorably on the blood offerings of Abel. Or at least, that is what Cain and Abel assumed. We can only surmise that Abel experienced better fortune than Cain, leading them to this understanding.
Whatever the case, Cain was jealous of Abel and killed him. The very first murder recorded in the Hebrew scriptures shows us that a (mis)understanding of God was the cause; the first recorded incident of religious violence.
While in the Garden, Adam and Eve did not offer sacrifice to God, yet it was not long before their fallen children determined that this was the best way to earn God’s favor. No sooner did they begin this practice was its inherent evil tragically exposed.
It is hard to imagine that God would promote such a dubious system. Yet much of Western Christian theology is based upon the idea that God requires sacrifice – even that of his own son – in order for His wrath to be appeased. This is in spite of the fact that scriptures quite explicitly tell us otherwise. The prophet Micah says that God is not interested in our sacrifice but to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. (Micah 6:8)
Yet we do not listen to the prophets and history continues to repeat itself.
At least 10 times in the Old Testament, from Exodus to Deuteronomy, you will find reference to a land where milk and honey flows freely. As far as the people of that time were considered, these words described the most exquisite of all things; the best of the best, creme de la creme, the top dog, and the cat’s meow. Apparently it just didn’t get any better than that.
But think about it; what is so wonderful about milk and honey? Why not a land of wine and figs? Plentiful fish harvests and abundant salt? Fruited plains with amber grain?
It occurred to me that there is something that both milk and honey have in common that is very unique; they are both food stuffs that are secreted (yecch!) by other animals. Most of the food that we get from animals are the animals themselves; we eat all or part of them. But milk is a warm viscous fluid that comes out of a living mammal and honey is…a paste?…an ooze?…that comes out of an insect. Again and again. Think about it.
There is also a way in which these two food are very, very different; Milk, If not used promptly, will begin to spoil. If this spoilage is controlled properly we might make us some cheese but usually the milk ends up becoming disgustingly inedible. It is an excellent medium for bacterial and fungal growth.
Honey, on the other hand, will last almost indefinitely ( I just ate some that had been hiding in the back of our cupboard for at least 10 years – very tasty ). It naturally inhibits bacteria and fungus from taking root.
Scripture has a way of hitting upon those foods that are very unique and in some way ‘cooperative’ foods. When we drink milk or eat honey we don’t kill the cow or the bee. The harvesting of these living foods is part of a relationship that exists between the animal and the human harvester. It would be of no benefit to eat the cow that gives the milk or to destroy the hive that provides the honey. But some foolish or ignorant people might do just that, out of greed or fear.
There is something oddly harmonious and peaceful about the harvesting and eating of milk and honey. Neither bee nor cow (or sheep or goat) must be sacrificed in order to to provide for our needs. I can’t think of anything else where this is the case.
Driving home from the beach yesterday we were listening to one of the comedy channels on XM Radio, Laugh USA (it’s the only one that is without raunchy profanity). One of the shorter segments was from an old Mort Sahl routine that he must have performed in 1960, because he speaks of the U2 incident as currently taking place. I tried to find a transcript of his act but I’ll have to rely upon my memory.
Sahl was a groundbreaking political comedian and he stepped on a lot of toes that deserved stepping on, both Left and the Right feet. He had sort of a rambling stream of consciousness type of delivery and in the course of this monologue he mentioned religious people and that they were in support of capital punishment, even if it meant that the occasional innocent victim might be killed. Sahl found this to be ironic, since an innocent victim of capital punishment figured so heavily in our theology (he must have been referring to Christians).
I think it’s interesting that nearly fifty years ago a Jewish comedian accurately nailed what is wrong with so much of the church. We have placed so much emphasis on the necessary sacrifice of Jesus – necessary so that we might benefit – that we forget that what was done to him was evil. Those Roman and Jewish leaders who conspired to have him crucified did so in order that the status quo, an uneasy peace, might be maintained. It mattered little to them whether or not Jesus was deserving of execution and they knew nothing of God’s atoning ‘plan’ for his death. They chose to overcome political rivalries and intense dislikes in their mutually assured destruction of this thorn in everyone’s side. Everyone who was in power, that is.
We forget this when we are willing to support a justice system that allows the sacrifice of innocent victims in order that we may exact vengeance on those who deserve it. Jesus, as God incarnate, did not die of disease or in an accident or of old age; his life and death should still have satisfied God’s substitutionary demands (according to some of the prevailing atonement theologies). Yet he was made a political scapegoat and then executed in a tortuous manner that was well known to the people of the time, so well known that there apparently was little need for the early church to make an icon of the cross. They knew fully well what crucifixion was and what kind of people were killed in that manner. As victims of Rome’s persecutions they could easily empathize with those crucified. Yet they knew that it need not be their fate, that Jesus had destroyed this need for scapegoats. Even so, if such a fate befell them, they had already been vindicated by Christ. He had pointed out the illegitimacy of systems of sacrifice.
Throughout the scourging and nailing to the cross Jesus presented a blunt yet nearly silent testimony that what was taking place was wrong. Yes, I do believe he had to go through with this, that it was the Father’s will. Not to satisfy his Father’s demand for innocent blood, but so that we might understand his indictment of us all, for our ( if, at times, ignorant ) collusion in these sacrifices. Every time we stand by and allow someone to suffer or die because it is in some way expedient or necessary for peace, harmony or the well being of the majority, we hammer another nail in the Cross.
The world continues on a never ending cycle of sacrificing one scapegoat after another. We rationalize this violence, saying it is necessary so that peace might be made and ‘justice’ served. Whatever benefits come from this violence (or threat of violence), they are only temporary and soon the world cries out for more blood. Satan creates the problem and Satan provides the solution.
But the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross took place only once and with his resurrection Jesus cheats Satan of his victory. We need to only look towards this supreme act of self-sacrifice, the ultimate expression of love, to understand how we can break this evil sacrificial cycle that plagues us. The example of the Cross teaches us that we may be resurrected from this mire of selfish death. We must learn how to die for God. This means that, like Jesus , we must be being willing to die for others, not requiring that they die for us. This is hard stuff to swallow and history has shown that we have little appetite for it.
As Mort Sahl reminds us, Jesus was also an innocent victim, a scapegoat, unjustly sacrificed by worldly powers to satisfy worldly needs. Jesus said that what we do to others, especially our victims –even the lowest of the low – we also do to him.
Another Jewish fellow, not so funny, once said this:
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6: 6-8
Knowing what you know right now, what would you do?
Would you protest? Offer yourself in his stead? Run to his assistance, perhaps even resorting to violence?
Would you run and hide, as his apostles did?
Or would you let it happen because you believe that this is part of God’s plan for salvation and you should not interfere?