In my last post, I talked about how our long-suffering grandparents (and great-grandparents) dug deep to offer comfort and hope to their erstwhile WWII enemies. But the second part of my reading that really made me pause were the words “sacrificial offering”.
I’m currently reading Virgil’s Aeneid, and have recently read Homer, Herodotus & Thucydides. Basically: I’m up on my ancient Greek history right now. These ancient texts offer a different context for some of the more contemporarily mysterious passages of the Bible, especially around sacrifices. Throughout the Aeneid, offerings are made or promised. The very best of livestock are repeatedly sacrificed on alters to various gods. (My favorite was a lily white sow suckling 30 lily white piglets which he sacrifices to Juno, which was totally a waste because she has it in for him. The sow was a combination augury-fulfillment and offering.) Somehow these seafaring travellers find the ability, time after time, to come up with appropriate livestock to offer to Apollo or Venus or their ancestors.
For us, today, sacrifices and offerings are both very abstract. I, for example, have sacrificed my consumption of candy this Lent. I sacrifice three hours a Sunday to worship the Lord (and hang out at coffee hour). An offering is a slip of paper with a few numbers written on it slid into a tasteful envelope with a scripture on it. These are my sacrifices and offerings.
The sacrifices and offerings of Jesus’ world, of that Mediterranean civilization, are far more concrete. When Jesus comes of age, his parents (poor folks, not like Aeneas), sacrifice two doves (Luke 2:24). These offerings are killed and eaten by others. Hard enough. But consider that livestock were not only today’s food, but tomorrow’s hope of food. Those 30 piglets killed with their mother represent forgone bacon and ham and pork tenderloin to people who were probably constantly hungry, and for whom meat was a profound experience. They are a waste – the finest of herd stock cut short and killed simultaneously in an age with limited ability to preserve meat. Their sacrifices consume capital – like us withdrawing from our 401K and paying the penalty.
I can’t help but think this idea of sacrificial offering carries over to that early “One Great Hour of Sharing”. Those folks were rebuilding a country and economy. They were finding capital to start businesses and families, to buy houses and maybe radios, tvs and cars. Their sacrificial offering, in the spirit of the ancient Mediterranean offerings, came at the cost of some prudence.
I look around and see a society where, increasingly, capital is the way to win and being labor is the way to lose. The work of your hands can earn little compared to the work of well-managed liquid assets. In that context, the sacrifice of capital is even harder than when you could just work to make it up.
In the Aeniad, the offerings and promises of offerings often swayed the gods to listen. They did remember them in their conferences together, and when deciding whether to interfere. They did listen when someone REALLY needed to make a spear-throw count. Without this context, and with 2000 years of cultural expectation behind me, it would be hard for me to hear and understand how radical my desert God and his carpenter son really are:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)