“A man is never too weak or too wounded to fight, if the cause is greater than his own life.”
- Oenomaus to Nemetes from “Spartacus”
I have had cause to give a bit of thought to the meaning of sacrifice, of giving of ourselves to others in a way so profound that it puts their needs before our own.
I am always moved by the stories that embody the heart of such sacrifice, in no small way I’m sure because of my vivid childhood connection with the person of Jesus and the notion that his death was somehow a sacrifice, and somehow for me. That was never a theology that has necessarily taught to me; I sort of absorbed it through religio/cultural osmosis more than anything. But I took it seriously, and it stuck.
And to this day I find that my favorite parables about the best of the human heart are the ones that speak of loyalty, friendship that transcends the mere word, trust, and the willingness to sacrifice one’s self for the other.
The best and most rare of friendships, our best days in relationship with our parents, children and our siblings, and the blessing of the deep connection with a partner or spouse move us to such places in our selves.
One of the offsprings of such deep connection is the willingness to realize that there is something greater than ourselves and our own centrisms that should move us to act no matter how broken and battered we are ourselves: the value of other people.
It is easy to think of people close to us as the natural recipients of this level of selfless compassion. I’d do it for my family without thought, for example.
And yet, what consistently challenges me is the example of Jesus’ life and teachings that dare me to love that deeply for everyone. That is no small task. We each, no matter how ashamed we are of it, have our own private prejudices and fears. We are called to love beyond them to a level of self-sacrifice, too.
Then there are those that perpetrate evil and terror into the lives of innocent people. There are those who abuse children, women, and the elderly. There are those who perpetrate all manner of evil and suffering for their own personal gain. There are those who seem to have no regard for the inherent value of human life, and exercise such darkness into the world as to seemingly erase all hope of goodness in our own humanity.
I’ve had days when I’ve felt that way. And Jesus dares me to love and forgive them, too.
He dares me to forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.
He dares me to pray for the hearts of those who persecute others, and to forgive those that I feel are my enemy.
And then he leads a life of self sacrifice for the betterment of everyone around him, even to the risk of his own life, and then looks me in the eye and says, “Now you do this, too.”
It’s terrifying, and yet he says we’re capable – more than capable – of doing just this.
Why don’t we? What are we so afraid of? I think that’s what it is – fear. If we could simply overcome our fears, we’d pull back the veil of our own prejudices and find that we can, in the grandest sense, love one another.
We just need to be brave enough to try.
“Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.”
- Morihei Ueshiba
May we always seek to find new ways to be loyal and devoted to the value of one another, even those we consider “The Other.” In so doing, may we be brave enough to truly trust in the knowledge that we can come to love one another as we are loved by One greater than ourselves.