Posts Tagged sacrifice

Do What in Remembrance of Jesus?

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.


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The Murderous Root of Religion

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.

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The Whistleblower

So, you want to hear this story again, do you?  Well, alright, one more time, then. Bear with me, though. It’s a tad long.

Right after that last bit of real bad times, Gilorien Bindings emerged as one of the biggest corporations in the world, and it had its hand in just about everything you could think of. Old John Gilorien himself had been driving his company to success now for over 50 years.  He owned most of the company stock, which caused the shareholders (not to mention his board of directors) some concern. You see, John Gilorien was nearing 90 years of age and was unmarried with no known kin.  His wife had passed on 20 years before and his son, Jack Jr., was presumed dead, having been buried in a big mine collapse.  Ironically, John Jr. had been on a tour of the company’s holdings with the intent of  improving labor relations along with working conditions. Seemed like this was a pretty big deal to John Jr. but apparently it wasn’t much bother for upper management.

Fortunately his old man saw some good in it and against the angry complaints of the  bean counters,  sent John Jr. out on his task. They were just beginning to make some progress when the accident happened. There were rumors that this was no ‘accident’ but nothing was to ever come of it. His body was never found and his goal was never realized. And the old man lost his son and only heir.

Meanwhile, things were going good for Gilorien Bindings. Their plants were more productive than ever and much praise (and money) was heaped on the plant managers,who were doing a good job keeping the workers cooperative. They really took to that old saying about idle hands being the devil’s playthings. Old Scratch couldn’t even get an appointment on a rainy day.

Now, Gilorien Bindings, like many industrial giants, was a union shop.  All their non-management employees were required to be members of the Southern Continental Regional & International Bindings Employees union. The relationship that Gilorien had with the union was surprisingly cordial, unlike what most other companies  experienced.  Although the workers occasionally grumbled, the arrangement was pretty stable.

Some said this was because so many managers had been promoted from the ranks. Funny thing was, these managers used to be union stewards. Probably just coincidence. Anyway, the idea was that these managers would remember their roots and prove to be good for labor as well as good for the company. In reality they were pretty much only good for the company and themselves.  They made sure that their replacements in the union leadership understood which side their bread was buttered on, never mind that their friends in the lower ranks might have to make do with bacon grease.


Most workers knew they were being shorn like sheep – paying high union dues out of low wages – but the plants were always located in the outback where Gilorien was the only game in town. They accepted that the situation, bad as it was, was a  whole lot better for them than it was for those  non-union workers they would see wandering about town. If for nothing else they could be thankful for their job security.

Everything seemed to be working out for the best, at least for some folk. The workers stayed in line and earned their paychecks, the stewards were cozy with the managers, the managers shared their rewards with the stewards while upper management and the  shareholders realized enormous profits. Things would have gone on like this for a long time, too, if it weren’t for that trouble maker who showed up one day.

Came out of nowhere, he did. Said he was a line worker from one of the plants in the outback. His name was Jake Something-or-other and apparently he’d been working on the line for some little time, minding his own business, when suddenly he got it into his head to file a grievance with the union stewards.  Can’t much remember what it was about ( Lord knows there was plenty to choose from) but it ended up with him saying something about the stewards speaking out both sides of their mouths.  Well, he got the same response all complainers got; told to shut up and mind his own business or else he’d be fired and kicked out of the union. Or worse.

Well that boy would not take no for an answer. He began talking to folks on his lunch hour, asking them questions about their jobs, their families, the union, the foremen – you name it. He had a certain way about him and before long people started telling Jake things that they’d kept bottled up inside for a long, long time.  Like how they not only had to shop in the company stores and pay rent to the company landlords but also how they had to pay the company doctors to take care of work related accidents.  On top of all that, they had to fork over 10% of their gross paychecks in union dues. And for what?

They workers could  barely make ends meet, there were no other job opportunities in the town and no one could afford to leave the area (at least that’s what the stewards told them).  Those who complained at the meetings found  their homes vandalized or were laid off or some even met with accidents.  Of course everyone new that these ‘accidents’ were really just the stewards and the foremen working on a teaching lesson together,  but pretty much everyone got the point.  Besides, most folks thought those trouble makers had it coming to them.

Well, young Jake got mighty steamed up about all that and took it upon himself  to get the folks a bit riled up themselves. He told them they were being duped.  He quickly caught the  union’s attention and was told that he was breaking the union by-laws. Besides, they told him, he was being foolish, that the real problem was with the lazy workers and the greedy managers. Their job as stewards was to keep the peace.   If he kept  this up he was going to get himself fired.  So he quit.

Now he took to meeting with people outside of the plant, at all times of the day and night. He met them in the town square and in the bars and pubs.  They union leaders tried to shut him down, again saying that it was against the by-laws to organize off  company property.  They told the workers that the union was granted sole authority by the company to represent the workers. Only the stewards were allowed to speak for the workers and to the workers. If they kept listening to Jake they could lose their jobs.  This only gave Jake plenty of opportunity to further point out their hypocrisy. The people kept on listening to what he had to say.

He told them that they didn’t have to obey the stewards or even the foremen.  That they had been tricked into believing that they were somehow stupid and needed to be told what to do. They already knew what they had to do. He told them how, if they just came together and followed him, they could bypass the stewards and deal with Gilorien Bindings on their own terms.  He told them how the stewards needed them more than they needed stewards. He told them not to blame everything on the company managers because it was their own people – other workers –  who were helping to keep them down.  Remember, he said; all the union stewards were at one time their friends. Would they have acted any differently in if they were in the stewards shoes? Really?  Even so, they could still force changes to be made, peacefully.  They could get better wages, a safer environment, even a better community.  They might even get the company to clean up the plants and stop dumping all those poisons into the air and the streams. All they had to do was stand together. And be prepared to strike, if need be.  More and more workers heard what he said and began to follow him.

Desperate, the stewards began a smear campaign against Jake.  They accused him of being drunk, a drug addict, a thief, an absentee father and  a homosexual pervert. Even a Communist.  But none of these labels stuck. Anyone who knew the man knew these were lies  or at least they didn’t care.  People loved Jake and stood beside him.

So the union stewards and the company managers hatched a plot.  They called a big meeting of all the plant workers – all three shifts – in the big factory square (which meant shutting the works down for a bit, which was absolutely unheard of).  They called Jake up on stage and asked him to read the (illegal) demands that he was making on behalf of the union. Suspecting some kind of trick, Jake refused, telling them that they knew darn well what they had to do to make things right with the people.

Well then, they said; we have looked over your illegal demands and have decided to grant you half of them. Of course what that meant was, that due to the high cost of these demands, the company would have to layoff one third of the  workforce and have the other two thirds pick up the slack, with no additional pay. It seemed that the union leadership had signed off on this plan, reminding everyone that this would mean union dues would increase by a third.  If this was the only way to maintain the status quo…

Well, you never saw such a commotion. People who were singing young Jake’s praises just the day before were now hollering for his hide.  Folks began to call him things like drunkard, drug addict, homosexual pervert – even Communist. Next thing you know the sheriff was standing by the stage with a set of handcuffs. They took young Jake away in chains,  the crowd throwing all kinds of eggs and rotten vegetables at the paddy wagon (now how do you suppose they found them so handy ?).  The deputies hustled him over to the railroad station and set him on the first train to nowhere.


There were still some people who stuck by Jake and what he said but they were quickly rounded up, fired and set packing. (Some of the more stubborn in the bunch met with unfortunate ‘accidents’.)  The plant managers were praised for avoiding a costly situation and many were promoted. The shop stewards were happy they could hold on to their sweet deals and the people went back to being grateful for what little they had (at least that’s what they said if you asked them). And the shareholders continued to make more money.  End of  story.

At least that would’ve been the end of the story if something amazing didn’t happen back at company headquarters.  After three years gone missing, old man Gilorien’s son showed up out of nowhere.  Thing was,  the Old Man wasn’t too surprised –  said that he had sent his son on  a secret mission some time ago, to check into his company’s working conditions.

Turns out that in just about every plant in the company a certain young rabble rouser named Jake had shown up  and pretty much found out the same things; the unions were in cahoots with the plant managers and that they both took advantage of the people they were supposed to be taking care of. All for personal gain or curry favor from above. Even worse, the people didn’t have the courage to risk a little security for the  greater hope of freedom.  Everyone  was always looking for someone else to blame and whenever people at odds agreed on a scapegoat then the situation for that person suddenly turned real, real nasty. In every instance Jake (Jack Jr.) had been maligned, vilified and run out of town.

Old Man Gilorien soon turned the company over to Jack Jr., who immediately ordered sweeping reforms ; granting overdue pay raises, boosting benefits and improving plant working conditions. He also provided the courts with the evidence they  needed to disband the union. These things didn’t come cheap. Gilorien Enterprises (formerly traded as Gilorien Bindings) took a big, big loss in the stock market and many on the board resigned.  Jack Jr. had not, however, announced any terminations. At least not yet.

All across the country the employees of Gilorien Holdings began to worry. Many remembered meeting this man, who was now the new head of the company, and they wondered if he remembered them.  Low level workers and upper level management waited anxiously for their next pay check,  praying that they would not find a pink slip in the envelope.  When pay day finally came, thousands of employees opened the beige envelopes with trembling fingers. Inside each one, alongside their check, was a personal not  from Jack Jr. saying that, yes indeed, he did remember them. And that he forgave them. But…he did expect a tad bit better behavior from now on.

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Milk and Honey? How Gross!

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.

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Dead Jewish Comedian Preaches on Atonement

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

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What If You WERE There When They Crucified Jesus?

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?

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