Faith Meets Life: What is it about self-sacrifice?

In the movie, Seven Pounds, a blind pianist, a woman with a failing heart, and an abused single mother are trapped. Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is trapped in his own guilt. A question has arisen in his mind. Can an act of self-sacrifice give him and these others that he befriends a breakthrough?

From Lord of the Rings to Shrek and a whole lot of what's come before, between and after them, the theme of self-sacrifice is front and centre. Why is that? What is it about self-sacrifice that makes it a favourite theme for novelists and scriptwriters?

I think the answer to this question has to take into account the story that will be retold a gazillion times in the week ahead, the week of Good Friday and Easter. It's the story of the death of Jesus of Nazareth and his resurrection that followed. Jesus has to be the most influential figure in the history of the Western world, and he is either becoming, or may still become that for other parts of the planet. At the centre of his story is his self-sacrifice.

His self-sacrifice also provided a breakthrough for a double juggernaut that seemed to have no solution in his day. First, there was the juggernaut to which the Jewish faith had come. In Jesus' time the Jerusalem temple along with its interpretation of the Old Testament Laws of Moses shaped the lives of the Jewish people among whom Jesus had been born and grown up. However, this established and complex religious tradition increasingly alienated the very people it was meant to serve. The endless religious regulations crushed the people. Further, the leaders of the Temple-Law tradition had become enmeshed in the machinery of the political oppressors of the people, the Romans.

The second juggernaut was that the Jewish faith was serving almost no one outside of its own ethnic boundaries. The Jewish people and faith had their roots in the life of Abraham. God had come to him and said to him that he and his children were to be a blessing to all the people groups (“nations,” etc.) of the world. At the time of Jesus, this program of bringing the blessing of God to all people was all but completely stalled.

How did Jesus' death provide a breakthrough to these dilemmas? First, his death exposed the bankruptcy of the keepers of the Temple-Law tradition. All through the four accounts of the life of Jesus one read of the plot of these “righteous” leaders to murder Jesus. In the end, their efforts paid off. Judas agreed to betray Jesus and become wealthy in the process. The Temple authorities bribed him.

Second, with the strangle hold of the Jewish authorities weakened, the way was open for a new (Jewish at first, but not for long) community to arise that was truly inclusive all ethnicities and spread the blessing of God through the world. This is the beginning of the Christian church, which has become the largest movement on the planet in the past 2,000 years.

It is perhaps not difficult for most readers to buy into the scenario I have just described. The harder thing for many of us is to come to terms with the immediate sequel to the death of Jesus, which I have just skipped over. It comes between his death and the rise of those early Christian communities.

Is it believable? I think it is, although this belief may come easier to those who, like myself, grew up hearing it at home, church and school. What about for others? My answer would be three fold. First, read the accounts. They are not long. In fact, all the couple of dozen or so documents left by the friends of Jesus and their immediate followers are not difficult to find and read. They are collected into what is known as the New Testament (the last third of the Christian Bible).

Second, one can consider that the story of the self-sacrifice of Jesus would have remained an obscure narrative if it were not that hundreds of people of that time had seen him alive after his death. Again, accounts of these appearances are found in the New Testament collected works.

Third, the story of Jesus' death and resurrection have the power to illicit hope for all people. If new life can come out of death through an act of God, then perhaps this God can help you and me. Perhaps each of us can follow the path of Jesus out of death. And in the meantime, our own lives, lived often in the midst of violence and hopelessness, can be marked by acts of compassion and hope.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
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