Sacrifice

Second Sunday of Lent

In the Gospel, Jesus, who will be sacrificed for us, is identified as God’s beloved Son; and in the First Reading, Abraham offers his beloved Son as a sacrifice to God.  And so we are invited by the readings to reflect on sacrifice. What is a sacrifice? And why would God want one, from Abraham or from us?

 

The first thing to see is that a sacrifice is a peculiar kind of gift.

 

In the case of ordinary gifts, which aren’t sacrifices, the gift-receiver is the primary beneficiary of the gift-giving.  The gift-receiver is the person who has the thing given; and she has something of the giver in the gift, too.

 

But a sacrifice is a different kind of gift.  When one person gives something as a sacrifice, however great his gift is, the gift-giver himself receives something of very great value.

 

To see this point, consider Maximilian Kolbe, who sacrificed his life for Franciszek Gajowniczek at Auschwitz.

 

The Nazis had randomly selected 10 prisoners to die, as reprisal for the escape of a prisoner; and Franciszek Gajowniczek was one of the 10. When he was picked, he cried out, “Oh, my poor wife! My poor children! I will never see them again!” But Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take Franciszek’s place. Kolbe knew that the selected prisoners would be slowly starved to death in a dark and airless bunker. But Kolbe offered his life for that of his fellow prisoner anyway. It took Kolbe two weeks to die in that bunker.  Witnesses who overheard the periodic Nazi checks on those still living in the bunker reported afterwards that Kolbe prayed and sang hymns until the end when his voice failed.

 

In that sacrifice, so hard to make, Kolbe became a person in whom the beauty of love and goodness shone so brightly that the story of his life and sacrifice now illumines all who hear about it.  He gave his life to give life to Franciszek, but he himself received far more than he gave. Who would not want to be as lovely a soul as Kolbe was?

 

And so here is the beginning of an answer to the questions about sacrifice. Our God, who lacks for nothing, is glad to have the gift of our sacrifices, not because he gets something great from them, but because we do.