Sacrifice & Power
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
During Lent, members of my parish are reading the book The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus by Fleming Rutledge. It’s a very good book, hefty at around six hundred pages, but well worth the time. We’re doing selections from the book each week, knowing that not everyone finds six hundred pages of reading to be a meaningful Lenten discipline, and the selections so far have been very thought provoking.
In particular, the readings from the past week have been rolling around in my mind. So, I thought this might be a good week to share some of the insights of what I’ve been reading with you and perhaps break some of the myths myths surrounding what Christianity believes about sacrifice and power.
Sacrifice is a word that gets thrown around a lot in our time, but often not in ways that resemble actual sacrifices. As Rutledge defines the word, a sacrifice is you giving up something of value for the greater good. Many times in our society, people talk about the sacrifice of military personnel, for example. It’s important to be clear, though, that the burden of that sacrifice rarely rests upon the shoulders of leaders who send young people into battle. Indeed, that sacrifice in our country often rests on the shoulders of those who aren’t in the ruling classes. For those in power to send those with little power off to battle isn’t Christian sacrifice, it's instead far too often sending people into harm’s way without having much cost to yourself.
I think we see that right now with Ukraine. We are seeing Ukrainian citizens rising up and seeking to defend their country against Russian invaders. We all honor those sacrifices. But we are also are seeing young Russians sent into battle by an autocrat with no discernable end in sight, a sacrifice of young Russians that costs little to Putin and is heart breaking to watch.
In our own country, we’ve seen gas prices rise due to several factors, not the least of which is the impact of Russian aggression and global attempts to sanction Russia and get that country to turn from this violent path. Rising gas prices absolutely always hit the poor and working class harder, and that’s a difficult sacrifice to be asked to make. At the same time, when we see the cost of gas at the pump as a sacrifice we are invited to make to enable these economic sanctions to hit Russia hard, to help and support the Ukrainian people, I hope we see it as a sacrifice well-worth making for the common good.
I also hope that the government, churches, and nonprofit organizations find ways to help the poor and working class who are struggling right now, to help them with resources to make up for the loss of funds they are experiencing due to pressure at the pump. Those of us who don’t feel that pain as acutely need to help those who find it overwhelming. We need to find our own ways to sacrifice for them.
Indeed, with all of this the sacrifice of Christ can be instructive to us as people of faith. After all, our culture tends to view self-sacrifice as weakness. Or we tend to experience forced sacrifice as an exercise of power over those with no power. But the sacrifice of Christ challenges those preconceptions, experiences, and ideals.
Fleming talks about this in her book, about how the sacrifice of Christ on the cross displayed an alternative mode of Power. As she says in chapter six, the Apostle “Paul did not understand the crucifixion of Christ primarily as a sacrifice in the cultic sense; he understood it as the definitive apocalyptic engagement with the forces of the enemy, at the frontier of the ages where Jesus’ self-abandonment was the ultimate weapon. It was the ultimate form of the ‘passive resistance’ that overwhelms and routs the enemy.”
For the Christian, Fleming points out, true power is best seen in a life willingly offered as sacrifice for the sake of others.
This means that when Christians see people subjugated, we choose to do what Christ did. We stand alongside of and advocate for them. We don’t tell women to stay with abusive husbands. We don’t tell immigrants to follow unjust laws that dehumanize and exploit them. We don’t tell LGBTQIA+ individuals that the must consign themselves to a life of celibacy we would never force on cis-gender heterosexual Christians.
No, instead if we have power, we ask how we can lay that power aside, how we can sacrifice our power and privilege to be an ally to those with none. We lay aside our own comfort in order to seek the healing of creation, to seek justice that can beat swords into ploughshares.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.