Sacrificial Love

The readings this week are remarkably unanimous in their message. We hear laid out the shape of love, which is the very essence of discipleship. In fact, this love can be summed up in a single word.

We have heard Fr. Steven mention several times the concept of a love that is “agape” (that is, “ah-ga-peh”, in this case). Boiled down, very simply, it can be explained as unconditional love that which is simply given. Just given. It is self-donating, without expectation or requirement of repayment. In another word, the love of discipleship is sacrificial.

In our context, however—that of the Christian covenant—that love, and indeed that same sacrifice, is intended to be mutual. Christ is, as always, our model in this, and his role illustrates perfectly how we are to carry out a love that is continually poured out (again, as Fr. Steven likes to say) “to the last breath, to the last drop of blood.”

I’ll go into what our part looks like, but first, we’ll go into what Christ’s example means and how it works based on the second reading.

Jesus, as we know, lived out self-sacrifice to the utmost. We can say simply that God’s love is in Christ revealed thus: He gives. Whatever Jesus could do, he did with love for each and for all, whether that meant healing, turning water into wine or dying on a cross. In that much, we can truly make sense of our own call in following the Lord.

However, the meaning of Christ’s action is different in essence. As the book of Hebrews explains: Jesus enters into heaven itself, appearing on our behalf before Almighty God. He appears to take away sin by his sacrifice, simultaneously once in time and in timeless eternity. Thus he satisfies in both time and eternity the justice of God for all who enter into his discipleship.

What could that possibly look like for us, who are by nature limited? Our gospel shows us in an account of what appears to be an actual event that Jesus observed with his disciples. For us it appears as a type of lived parable. The poor widow, giving from her poverty all she had, moves the heart of Jesus.

This is what faith looks like from his perspective, and not in a purely monetary way, but in terms of proportion or priority. She offers God her whole livelihood. The same occurs in the first reading, when Elijah solicits from another widow the food and drink that was to serve as a last meal for the widow and her son, as they had exhausted her means.

Rather than simply eating that last little morsel and resigning to the starvation she expected, she offered that last meal—literally the livelihood of herself and her son—to Elijah, the prophet, who was indeed representative of God himself.

It is the abandonment of this pair of widows that is instructive to us. These women lived out true dependence on God and his providence. We should very much have the same relationship with the things of this world!

More than this distrust of earthly goods and trust of God’s mercy, though, I want to look at what could motivate them (and us, by the way) to this sacrifice.

Some of you have heard or seen that my wife broke her foot recently, which meant changes for me and our children, if we were to maintain our household in any kind of order. (My wife is absolutely amazing, by the way!) So, it required that I become a greater husband than I have ever been, participating in chores and tasks, seeing to the incredibly numerous requests of our children, almost all of which get directed to her exclusively.

I learned the hard way of the many demands that my wife endures daily. And my efforts to rise to the challenge were noticed. My wife saw and appreciated the efforts to which I went to meet her needs and those of the children and the household, in addition to the normal demands of work and home that heretofore were my responsibility.

What resulted was a greater mutual appreciation and gratitude for each other, and a time of renewal in our marriage, as my wife saw in my efforts that she was receiving my “firsts,” not my “lasts”.

This is the kind of mutual self-giving we hope for in God; as we bend ourselves to the task of putting God first, as we will ourselves to depend on Him, giving God our best efforts all for love of Him, his grace redoubles in our hearts. Whether our table is full or empty, whether our bank account is flush or sparse, we hope to know the great consolation of God’s love more and more alive in our very selves.

David Dunst
Director of Music and Liturgy

Leave a Reply