Monday, December 9, 2013

No Greater Love

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13

When I was a little girl, I thought that if the occasion presented itself, I would be a hero, would fearlessly risk my life for someone else, that I was the kind of person who would die for a total stranger.

I know myself better now, and I am not a hero. I would probably hesitate, would freeze in agonized horror until it was too late. 
And if there was time to think about it, I would think.
My life is very sweet. I look forward to my future. I want to see what’s going to happen next. I want to get married, have children, grandchildren, like most other people. I want to build a house and travel to foreign countries and publish the stories I write. I want to learn to sail and fly and weld.

I would hesitate to give up all that I look forward to for the life of another man. Humankind is not, as I used to think, generally good, kind, caring. Actually, a good percentage of them seem to be losers and idiots and jerks. (Especially if you look at them quick.)
If I was to die for a man or woman, I would want to be sure that the person I was dying for was the kind of person who would do great things, that they would be worth dying for, worth sacrificing all the things I want to do in the future for.

I grew up in a Christian home, and I heard this all the time: “Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life and died on the cross for our sins. All you have to do is believe and you’ll have eternal life and live in heaven forever…”
 I have lived my life believing it, and from time to time, when I think about it, I am thankful. Too often I take it for granted. It’s something I grew up with. 

Like air, and water. 

Like life.

But once in a while something happens, something small and insignificant, but for some reason, for however short a time, I see. Sometimes whatever clears my head for that moment is completely unrelated. Sometimes it’s something as unholy as a song by Bruno Mars: “I’d catch a grenade for you, throw my hand on a blade for you, I’d jump in front of a train for you…” 
For some reason hearing those lines made me think. How many people on earth would I catch a grenade for, throw my hand on a blade for, jump on a train for? Could I, would I, really die for someone?

I like to think that in the heat of the moment I would be a “hero,” save strangers just because they needed saving, that I would act without regard to my own safety, but I don’t know that. I can’t know what I would do in that moment, until I am in that moment.

But what if you picked ten random strangers, and showed them to me and said, 
“These people will die if you don’t die in their place.” Would I give my life for theirs? 
I wouldn't know these people. Even if I did know them, if I knew they had greater promise or talent than me, if they were smart like Einstein or gifted like Beethoven, what if they wasted it? 
What if they weren’t ten random strangers? What if they were ten people that I know, but do not like? What if I knew them well enough to know that they were not worth dying for?

What if, even if I died for them, they could all commit suicide ten minutes later? 
They might shrug their shoulders and walk away, not caring that I just saved them. They might not know that I died for them. They might be right back here tomorrow, and next time, without me here to save them, they will die.

Even if I knew that one of the ten was going to do something worthwhile, that only one of the ten would care, would honor me, would live on, while the other nine would commit suicide ten minutes later, I don’t think I would do it. Like them, I am only human. I don’t think I could. I would say, "No."

 Jesus said, “Yes.”

Jesus knew the world. He saw it exactly how it is, imperfections, horrors, beauties, bad and good. Millions of people, living from hand to mouth, fighting, scrabbling, scraping an existence from a cursed earth. We weren’t doing anything worthwhile. We weren’t doing anything important. We were spiraling downward into a messier mess than we were already in and we weren’t even asking for help. We may have seen Death coming but we never thought to ask for someone to take our place. 

Jesus could see that in the future, men would know about his sacrifice. Some men would care, some men would have eternal life, some men would become the immortal splendors they were created to be.
He could also see that many of them would turn their heads. Many would ignore his sacrifice, many would deny that it ever happened. The way out of Death would only be taken by a few. Maybe as few as one out of ten. The other nine would go on, unthankful, uncaring, to commit a slow and stubborn suicide.

  “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:7-8