Love and Sacrifice pt. 1 – Tearing Away

A common refrain, maybe too common amongst our particular views on love, is that love requires sacrifice, or that love is sacrifice. On the surface, this indeed seems true as it would be the ultimate display of love to give up something precious to oneself. Be it time, or emotional energy, or attention or even resources.

However, it would seem to me that this brings the aspect of love into a transactional category. I have sacrificed x, so you must love me y amount. This is dangerous thinking and indeed is normally reinforced by our early childhoods in which well-meaning parents unconsciously make love conditional upon obedience or what-have-you. Now I’m not going to digress into parenting issues and such in this article, as that is not the focus. However it’s definitely food for another article just to explore that aspect.

What we are focusing on here is whether love is sacrifice or not. If sacrifice is viewed in some transactional sense, then perhaps love if enacted through sacrifice would indeed be a transaction is well. It would seem odd though, as the definition of sacrifice is to give without expectation of recompense. But we must ask, why is it that we give?

The expectation may not be held, but it usually is implied, at least on the part of the person receiving the benefit of said sacrifice. I have given to you of myself… (in hopes that you may reciprocate). Normally, this causes a strange awkwardness as we try to assimilate something sacrificed for us, given to us, and instinct tells us recriprocity is warranted. Sometimes we don’t know what to reciprocate with. Sometimes, the reciprocation is easy, sometimes not. In any case, we feel an obligation once someone enacts their half of this transaction, for that is what it has become at this point, a transaction.

Can we love without a transaction, implied or otherwise? Can we even love without sacrifice? If love is the ultimate expression of good, and we do for others without expecting it to be reciprocated, does it still become that transaction if others feel an obligation in kind at our sacrifice? Indeed, there are those who don’t want any gifts for that very reason, they feel obligated when something is given to them. I daresay the transactional value comes on behalf of the giver. We give to give, and it is within our own thought that we can create transactional value or not. Giving of oneself purely for the sake of giving, without expectation or recompense, is more difficult than it sounds. We must not think of it in terms of reward… either via the smile of the recipient, or their joy, or thanks, or praise, or even a “reward in heaven”. Such giving, to be pure, must be wholly of goodwill and free of transactional value. If we achieve this, then we are blameless should the recipient themselves feel any obligation.

Of course, this is trickier than it sounds. I know of no magical way to ensure the recipient of our goodwill does not feel obliged at the reception of our gifts.

The larger question then comes, is this really sacrifice? Sacrifice would mean that we are tearing away from that which we have, so we may never use it again, to give to another. I have given a person 20 minutes of my time, or X amount of personal emotional energy, or 15 dollars, or a ride to the bank and it’s associated costs… all of these are a transactional value that we ascribe as “given up” for another person. While it may be true that our time is the only true finite quantity all mankind possesses, is it sacrifice to spend it on another in the spirit of love?

Again it goes back to transactional giving. Whether it be time or money or whatever, if we give of it, and do not account the cost at all, in any way, in that giving, we can remove the transactional value from it. Hence, we are giving of something without sacrificing, in good spirit. So what is a sacrifice then? Is it only reserved for those times when we know how precious little we have yet still give of it? Is sacrifice a lament for that which is given?

Let’s look at the example in Mark 12:

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.

42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.

44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything— all she had to live on.

This is a troubling passage for some. They may see it as an indictment of driving a decent car, or wearing good clothing, or even having a house large enough for a spare room, or taking a vacation or what have you. They see sacrifice as all-or-nothing. We must sacrifice, we must tear away, we must do without. They add up a transactional cost, envision sacrifice as “we must give up this, for something else”. It becomes an obligation.

But what of the woman in the example? Did she feel she must put in her last 2 coppers? That it was this or a worse consequence? Did she feel an obligation to do this? I say no.

Here’s a woman burdened by poverty. Her copper coins may have bought bread for herself, perhaps even for a child. They may have eased her plight by having herself a cup of drink. Any number of things could have been the result of a decision involving those 2 coins. However, she *chose* to give them. At some point in her mind, she realized “These are my last 2 coins. However, I have enough, and someone else can do with these.”. It’s simple to deduce that was her reasoning, precisely because she had so many other things she could have used that money on, given her state, to make it even a little better.

There’s a deeper meaning here. Many rich came and gave much money. Certainly more would be done with their coins to better the society as a whole than these 2 meager coins. The distinction is in the obligation. The rich people saw this as sacrifice, a tearing away of theirs, which they must give. They felt they were obligated to give and make a show of giving. Now they may have even gone so far as to not have expected any recompense, via a slap on the back or recognition or otherwise, but in any case, they gave in obligatory fashion, they weren’t spiritually “all in”.

The money is symbolic. All money, in essence, is symbolic. A symbol of how we value our resources, time and skills. It’s a symbolic medium of exchange. The widow in this story, she’s giving a much greater witness to the love in her heart, even with less money, because she’s pitching “all in”. She’s giving all she has, instead of retaining some for herself. Before you misread this, it’s not an indictment of savings or having good things. However it’s a demonstration of spiritual commitment at it’s core, touching on one subject that gets many of us, Christians and non-Christians, wiggling in our seats. Money is powerful stuff, it’s the symbology of all we spend our true finite resource on (time). It’s hard for us to look at it and think “I should give more, but I want a new TV”, and not feel like crap as a result.

Why do we? Why must we? Are we doomed to constantly feel guilt for wanting good things?

Look again at the passage. Rich people threw in lots of money, the widow only 2 coins, yet she gave more. On the surface, that easily says “If you have stuff, you’re not giving enough.” But that’s not what it’s saying in totality. The woman gave all she had, because she had enough. She gave of willing spirit. She gave in true, pure love. If she needed those 2 coins to feed a kid, wouldn’t she? If she needed them to avoid starving and/or begging, would she not use them for that? No, she said to herself at one point, once again “I have enough, let someone have this who can use it.”. She made a spiritual commitment. She wasn’t obligated.

The rich people, on the other hand, gave under the burden of obligation. Even though they had enough, and still had much more than the widow after they gave, they felt the “tearing away” in giving that only obligation brings. There is the crux and the difference. There is the pointing out of transactional versus pure love.

So is love sacrifice after this long, twisted exploration? I say yes, but with one caveat… that sacrifice does not mean the tearing away of what we have. Sacrifice means giving because we want to, out of that love. God does not need us to give our last penny, nor to give until we ourselves are hurt. That’s not the message. The message is that we give of our heart, in love and not obligation. Whether we give 2 coins or 2 million coins, it is the spirit in which we give that is the more important.

Next week, we will examine the rich men and needles in this vein.

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