There once was a town full of people who loved and served one another. Whenever a person was sick, three other townspeople would aid the sick one. If a man was chopping wood for his fireplace, two more men would assist him. If a woman was running out of food and growing hungry, five women would cook her meals until she was able to recover. Every townsperson was willing to sacrifice their time and efforts for one another.
The town was full of love and compassion, all because of the founder of the town. He was a bold man and a revolutionary who taught radical ideas of love. He opposed the popular ideas of the era which were centered around selfishness. With his new and refreshing views on loving one another and showing compassion to all, he gained a following. The men and women were so captivated by his ideas that they decided to form their own town, where they would live by his radical teachings. They lived in an environment built on his ideas of sacrificial love.
That happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago and no one knew what happened to the man. Yet, the philosophies of the founder were timeless and continued to persevere.
One day, however, a very old, small book was found in the attic of a building within the town. A few of the townspeople gathered in order to look inside the book and at its content. As they began to read, they discovered that there contained a few pages that were written about founder of the town by a person who lived in the same time as he.
In it, they found a beautiful story of what actually happened to their founder. It said that the surrounding forces were so upset with the man, his ideas, and the town, that they were going to pillage the town and take all of its inhabitants hostage, most likely to kill them. However, the founder of the town bargained with the forces and asked if they would instead simply take his life and leave the people and their town alone. They accepted his offer and brutally murdered him, this founder and great teacher.
The man who wrote this short record was someone who had been so moved by the founder’s actions that he decided to write it down. He couldn’t understand why a man would so selflessly sacrifice himself and give his life for the people of his town. But, the townspeople knew why he would. They put down the book and decided to tell the whole town this wonderful story, now viewing the founder’s teachings of sacrificial love in a completely new light.
I just finished “The Orthodox Heretic” by Peter Rollins. As a tribute, I wanted to write a tale (as he calls them) according to the style of the book. Also, however, I wanted to analyze a concept that he seems to criticize in his book. One idea that he seems stress throughout countless tales is the idea that the salvific message of Christianity often distracts from the call to be compassionate and serve those around you, to show a sacrificial love.
For example, in his tale “Being the Resurrection”, he presents a story of a group of disciples who leave when Jesus is crucified, broken and saddened by the events. However, they start up a community that bases their lifestyle off of the life and teachings of Jesus. This happens for about a hundred years and then they get visited by Christian missionaries. The missionaries begin to explain Jesus to the community and the community in turn explains how they already know of this Jesus and actually live according to His teaching, despite the fact that He died.
The missionaries rejoice and claim, “We have amazing news for you all!” And they proceed to tell of the message of salvation. So then, the people of the community begin to erupt in celebration over this news. However, the leader of the community, an elder, withdraws to a small hut on the fringe of the city as he begins to weep. When asked what is wrong, he says that he they have given their whole life dedicated to living like Jesus, but now he is scared that his children and children’s child will not follow Him because of his radical ideas and sacrificial love, but rather for selfish reasons and personal salvation.
To be honest, this story impacted me greatly. Because it made me look at my motives for following Jesus. And I appreciate Rollins for creating a tale that incited such contemplation. However, I believe that the salvific message of Christ, if properly understood, does not hinder from the social aspect of His ministry, but rather, enhances it.
As we saw in the tale, the townspeople continued in the teachings of the founder. However, when they understood the sacrifice that the founder made himself, it gave new light to his teachings. It was no longer a set of ideas that had been working through the lives of the townspeople, but rather, it was something tangible. They could grasp it and see the result of his own selfless act of sacrifice. The only reason the town in which they practiced his teachings of sacrificial love was in existence was because of his own significant act of sacrificial love.
The point of his sacrifice was not so that the townspeople could celebrate the fact that they were not decimated by the forces that were coming to destroy or to honor him for being so brave. Rather, the founder was working within his own system of sacrificial love. The salvation he provided the town with, then, was not seen as something to celebrate as an end of itself, but rather, as a means to carry on his system of sacrificial love. And he did so by performing the ultimate act of sacrificial love.
In the same way, Jesus sacrificed Himself the ultimate act of sacrificial love. Salvation is a beautiful thing. However, it become toxic when it acts as an end, rather than a means to end. Jesus’ sacrifice, of course, encompasses many things. But, what it was not meant for was to be celebrated selfishly, simply as a means of avoiding hell or something of the like. While we were saved from something (sin), we were also saved to something else (service and sacrificial love).
It would be foolish to say that people could not act in sacrificial love apart from understanding salvation through Christ. However, when His ultimate sacrifice of love is properly understood and the gravity of it and of the message of salvation is understood, it puts everything into perspective. It makes operating in sacrificial love so much sweeter. What is following the teachings of Jesus without knowing and understanding the sacrifice of Jesus?
1 John 3:16 defines love as this, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” It first looks at Jesus sacrificing His life for us and then says that by that definition love, we are to love others. We are to lay down our lives for each other. Salvation is the tangible result of Jesus ultimate sacrifice of which we can grab ahold. When we do, we will view our own sacrifices in a more complete way.
So, while the salvific message of Christianity may indeed be perverted to cause people to be selfish and distract from the command to sacrificially love one another, the message of salvation was never meant to do so. Properly understood, it can add a brand new dimension to the idea of sacrificial love.