What Is Sacrifice?

pele

by Michael Maciel

It is customary to bring a bottle of wine, or some other gift, when you go to someone’s house for dinner. It’s not a law but it’s a nice gesture.

It says a couple of things:
1) You appreciate the invitation.
2) You “bring something to the table,” in every sense.

You wouldn’t call your bottle of wine a sacrifice, even though you are giving up something of value. Instead, it’s more of an offering, a gift.

Traditionally, offerings to the gods have been made as payment for a request—I give you this; you give me that. Quid pro quo. But Jesus showed us a different way. A sacrifice or offering doesn’t have to be in expectation of getting a return. It can be made simply out of love, out of appreciation. It makes one’s interaction with the gods a relationship, not a business transaction.

Remember, Jesus called God “Abba,” which is Aramaic for a child’s term of endearment for “father,” which in English translates as “daddy.” Jesus showed us that God is not a powerful ruler who enforces laws with strict and fiery judgment, but rather God is the One with whom we are most closely related. We are children of God, not God’s subjects.

We are like the boss’ son or daughter, not just another employee. That makes us part of the family business. Our job security is one hundred percent. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing.

The words “sacrifice,” “offering,” and “tithe” are all closely related.

When we tithe, we give the top ten percent of our income, which means before taxes or other expenses. (Not many people do this anymore, but that’s the tradition.)

“Sacrifice” was similar, in that only the firstfruits or best of the herd were considered suitable for the temple altar. This idea shows up in the story of Abraham and Isaac, as well as in Exodus where only the firstborn sons (the heirs and therefore most valuable) of the Egyptians were killed. The first Passover prefigured the coming of the Messiah who would make animal sacrifice obsolete and no longer a part of Temple worship.

One Native-American tradition says that you cut a piece of the best part of the meat and throw it into the fire before the meal as a way of saying thanks to the Great Spirit for providing you with food.

“Offering” connotes respect, love, and endearment. It is more of an acknowledgment than a bribe. When tourists visit Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, they are supposed to bring a bottle of gin, flowers, fruits, or a song with which to honor the Goddess Pele. Anything of personal value is acceptable, even money, which is why we toss coins into a wishing well. But in that case, you would have to imagine doing it without the wish.

The keyword is “honor,” which changes the intention around the act of sacrifice or offering. “I acknowledge You, O Creator, as the source of all.”

This puts a positive spin on the act of “giving something up” for Lent. This is the time of year when life seems to “return.” We offer something of value to God as a way of acknowledging the Source of all life. It’s not penance. It’s not sacrificing for something in return. It’s a gift, a gift of love. It’s like a standing ovation, as in “Give it up!” for a performer. It’s us saying, “Way to go, God! You did it again!”

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