The fullness of sacrifice isn't realized in loss and suffering, but in joy, hospitality, and faithful relationship.
What is Doulos?
The Doulos podcast explores servant leadership in an Orthodox Christian context.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You are listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. With me today is co host Fr. Timothy Lowe, former rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, as well as our guest today Fr. Jeremy Davis, author of the new book, Welcoming Gifts: Sacrifice in the Bible and Christian life, published by Ancient Faith. So Hello, Fr. Timothy, and so delighted to be speaking with you as well, Fr. Jeremy.
Fr. Jeremy Davis 0:42
Hi, it's great to be on your podcast. Thanks, Hollie.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:45
Fr. Jeremy, welcome.
Hollie Benton 0:46
So Father Jeremy, I understand you assist his Eminence Metropolitan JOSEPH at the Antiochian Archdiocesan Headquarters. And before that you served at St. Elijah and Holy Ascension in Oklahoma. Was there anything about your work and ministry or studies at St Vladimir's Seminary that prompted you to do this research and writing on sacrifice?
Fr. Jeremy Davis 1:10
Well, not directly. I'll say that the direct inspiration for this research and for the book was a struggle that I had after I converted to Orthodoxy. I came from a Protestant background that included the idea of penal substitution atonement, a theory of how we're saved, which revolves around the idea of punishment, that we deserve punishment because of our sins, and that God, in order to save us from that punishment actually had to transfer that punishment over to Christ. And when he bore that punishment, it nullified our liability to punishment. So that's how that theory goes. And sacrifice in general, even Old Testament sacrifice was interpreted in that way. When I converted Orthodoxy, I began to see very quickly that that view didn't settle within the tradition. But I struggled to know what should replace it. I mean, how should we understand the means by which Christ saves us on the cross? And specifically, how should we understand sacrifice and how that fits in not just into the New Testament, but also the Old Testament. So that prompted years of reflection, and then I started to read about modern studies from anthropologists and classicists, and historians, etc, about the meaning of sacrifice and looking at biblical studies and the church fathers. That's what led to the book. I will say, though, that even though they weren't the direct inspiration, certainly St. Vladimir's taught me that patristic theological phronema or paradigm that enabled me to look at this subject with fresh eyes, and to find these insights in the church fathers. And then also my parish ministry helped me because many parishioners over the years enjoyed or endured classes that I taught on this subject at various points in my research, and they provided very helpful questions and comments that kind of refined not only my presentation, but different aspects of the subject that I hadn't considered up to that point.
Hollie Benton 3:36
And we're always still learning. It's always good to be on that continuous learning journey.
Fr. Jeremy Davis 3:40
Hollie Benton 3:41
You know that we're hosting the Sixth Annual Orthodox Leadership Conference this September 16 through 18th at St Vladimir's Seminary. The theme for this conference is Money - The Gospel Changes Everything. I see in our culture that many people associate money with sacrifice. On the front end, people will say it takes hard work and sacrifice to make money. And once you have that money, it can be seen as a real sacrifice to depart with it and give it away. I'm not convinced this contemporary understanding of sacrifice truly aligns with scripture. So given your research, how does the gospel change everything when it comes to our money and our possessions? And how does sacrifice play into that?
Fr. Jeremy Davis 4:28
Yeah, well, first of all, as you suggested, our modern idea of sacrifices, in many ways is diametrically opposed to the ancient idea of sacrifice. In the ancient world, sacrifice was something that was joyful. It's something that people wanted to do. Today, we sort of dread sacrifice, if we're honest with ourselves, even though we honor it, we at the same time, dread it. It's because in the ancient world sacrifice was seen as a means for connecting with God, or attempting to connect with God. Sacrifices, which were all offerings, almost exclusively offerings of food, were seen as symbolic gifts that were meant to establish a relationship. And they were part of a gift giving culture, which was, you know, standard throughout the ancient world. It's just sort of the standard paradigm, or the standard way people thought about relationships was that they were founded and maintained in part on the basis of the exchange of meaningful gifts. And we even see this today. When a man wants to marry a woman, he gives her a ring, we give birthday presents, we give anniversary presents. And then in addition to that, even though we don't necessarily think of them as gifts, per se, when we welcome guests, we provide hospitality and especially in our Orthodox cultures, we still maintain even more so than in general American culture, this idea of hospitality and honoring a guest with a lavish offering of food. So in the Old Testament, in an ancient culture, generally people offered food gifts, especially to God as a gesture of welcome. If that's what the sacrifice means, then apply it to, metaphorically, to things beyond food gifts, especially to our money and the way that we use our money in relationship to God. It's not as in the modern way of thinking, sacrifice is not simply about loss, about giving something up. It's not about some kind of heroic loss. Rather, it's a way of demonstrating to God that we want Him in our lives. Just as in relationships, like we can give gifts, especially if they're gifts from the heart, meaningful gifts. And that's in the Old Testament, what God did through the law, he refined the way that Israelites gave sacrifices. And he puts certain criteria and stipulations in that ensured that they were meaningful, symbolic gifts, that they represented the kind of gesture that he wanted from the ancient people. They represented faithfulness, that they represented love of God and love of other people, that these symbolic gifts then were true representations, symbolic representations of self offering. So if we translate that to today, then if our financial giving is seen as a sacrifice, then it would be a offering to God inviting him into relationship. But beyond that, beyond that sort of general ancient idea of sacrifice, the Gospel itself, the good news of Jesus Christ changes, even the idea of ancient sacrifice. Now, certainly, when we look at ancient sacrifice, generally the Greeks and the Romans, they had sacrifices, but they were different from the Old Testament sacrifices. They obviously had wandered away from worship of the one true God, and were worshipping many gods and worshipping in very distorted and strange ways. As I said, in the Old Testament Law, God refined that ancient worship, purified it. But even in the Old Testament, it was still that symbolic offering, a mere symbol. And the danger was that it depended on the worshipers themselves, to follow through on the gestures that they were making in sacrifice. What I mean is, as I said, before, a man wants to marry a woman, he gives her a ring. Well, that's not the end of the marriage, right? That's the beginning of the marriage, then he has to follow through by being actually faithful, by showing the love, showing the commitment that that ring represents. In the Old Testament, we see time and again that Jewish people didn't live up to that. But when Christ came, He lived a perfectly faithful life and he offered himself not just as a symbol of faithfulness, but as true faithfulness. And so in the gospel, He gives us the example, he gives us the teaching, he gives us the empowerment, you know, the mystical grace through the Holy Spirit in order to truly offer ourselves not just as symbolic gestures of welcome and faithfulness, but as truly giving ourselves over to God.
Hollie Benton 9:57
Even trying to drive home the point the Prophets make, it's in Hosea, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." And the Old Testament was trying to get that point across all along, and Christ actually lives it, demonstrates it with his own life.
Fr. Jeremy Davis 10:14
Absolutely. And teaches us how to and empowers us how to do the same.
Hollie Benton 10:18
Sacrifice being a symbol of the acts of mercy that we're supposed to be performing, and not just a way to get me off the hook for not doing mercy.
Fr. Jeremy Davis 10:26
Hollie Benton 10:28
So Father, you suggested a few verses from Hebrews to frame the discussion today, specifically, Hebrews 13:15-16. "Through Him, then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." If I may, Father Jeremy, I'd like to suggest that the fruit of lips isn't empty lip service just heaping up words of praise, but acts of obedience and mercy. The verses that lead up to what I just read, describe the fruit of sacrifice, real action, including brotherly love, hospitality, honoring your marriage, being content and keeping your life free from the love of money. And it even extends to imitating Christ's sacrifice as it instructs, "Therefore, let us go forth to Him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured." It's, it's an almost impossible approach to sacrifice because who wants to suffer, who wants to bear abuse? Who wants to sign up for this kind of faith and sacrifice? But I think the writer of Hebrews captures both the stark reality of human life and the confidence we all hope for in proclaiming, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" Abuse is going to happen. Suffering is going to happen. It's the reality of the human condition. But faith and sacrifice has meaning as St. Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews. Could you say more about offering up a sacrifice of praise?
Fr. Jeremy Davis 12:11
Sure, yeah. And I think it's a situation where it's both-and. It's not either-or. The sacrifice of praise, St. Paul says, is you know, the fruit of lips, that's one kind of sacrifice, is the fruit of lips. It's not mere lip service, as you say, it's not merely going through the motions, not merely speaking the words with your mouth. St. Cyril of Alexandria, when he interprets this verse in his commentary on Hebrews, he beautifully describes how words, when they are heartfelt, are the most natural produce, the most natural offspring of the human soul. And then when we offer God true words from the heart, we're offering him what comes out of our souls. Human beings are different from animals and plants. Because we have the gift of words, when we offer those words of praise and prayer from the heart. They are very beautiful sacrificial offerings to God, which, in the truest sense of sacrifice, they invite God to be in our lives, just like when we love someone, and we want them to be in our lives, we speak to them. Likewise, we should speak to God in the same way. But St. Paul goes on to describe others sacrifices, in particular, sharing what we have with those in need, and doing good works, good works of love, and faithfulness toward God. So caring for the poor, also providing for the ministry of the church, by showing love to those whom Christ loves. By supporting his work in this world. Again, we demonstrate our love toward Him and that we want to be part of His life and we want Him to be part of our lives. And then finally, like you said, all of those other aspects of obedience can be sacrifices as well and are essential to our Christian life. Those acts of faithfulness, being faithful in marriage, being faithful in our work, being honest, rather than dishonest, being people of integrity, being servants of God, and turning our back on worldly things and seeking the things of God. All of these acts of obedience are also ways of demonstrating to God that we want Him in our lives. As you said, there is suffering, there is a cost to all of these sacrifices. And in the ancient world, there were costs to sacrifice as well. You know, in the ancient world, a calf or a sheep might be offered. And we don't really have any idea of what that means today, most of us because we don't work with animals, but in the ancient world, especially cattle were rarer than they are today, they didn't have huge ranches like we have in Montana, or in Kansas and Oklahoma, where I'm from, most of us don't have that experience, though. In the ancient world, cattle were very expensive, they were signs of wealth, and to give a cow over to God in sacrifice, and have its meat burned up on the altar, think of what could have been done with that meat, it could have fed many people, it's a gesture of really self denial, it's a cost, it's a loss that's being endured. And yet, ancient people didn't see it that way. Because their eyes were on the meaning of the gift, not on the cost. And likewise, when we truly love someone, if we give them some kind of gift from our hearts, even if it costs a great deal, it doesn't bother us, because our focus is not on the cost, but on the goal.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 16:38
You know, part of the problem of the human being and culture is the false dichotomies that are created, what is mine is not yours, and this part belongs to God and all those sorts of easy ways of conceptualizing a relationship. Behind that I find this constant struggle of of self-centeredness. So I have to convince you to give an offering. And it's breaking down that mentality that I find a lot in the gospels, of course, and then Paul's letters. Really, we have nothing, "Freely you have been given, freely give." It's not about you. And so everything you have is already automatically a sacrifice and returned back to God without thinking. That mentality is far from us, and certainly many of us Christians, and how we just approach the material world, our life as a disciple, as one who's committed to the commandments. The innate difficulty of dying and rising, you know, dying in Christ, projecting our life of everything we have, we are now his servants, we now are slaves, we now are in obedience to Him, it belongs to Him, we do what He tells us to do. So how do we accept this model, and die and rise, Fr. Jeremy? How do we just accept our life in Christ with such gratitude and overwhelming response to his offering, but also his teaching, and that eliminates us in a very concrete way? It's not about Fr. Timothy, it's not about my ticky tacky life. It's simply about my obedience and offering and understanding that everything is a gift from above. I'm here for a very short time, so better pay close attention, because I'll be accountable.
Fr. Jeremy Davis 18:21
If we can change the way we see the sacrifices, focusing on our goal of union with God, just as Christ, he ignored the cost of the cross, He despised the shame. In the words of Peter in his epistle, he despised the shame and the suffering of the cross. Because his eyes were on the prize of being obedient to God, and to loving mankind, to saving mankind. So if we can have the same sort of mentality and keep our focus on God, then it makes all of those sacrifices worthwhile.
Hollie Benton 19:03
Thank you, Father Jeremy, for helping us understand what a biblical and patristic understanding of sacrifice might mean. It's not just suffering, its obedience, its commitment, its loyalty, its faith, its trust, just as the Letter to the Hebrews said, "Let's go forth to him outside the camp." Let's not put our trust in the city or in the camp and our worldly leaders, but we're called to follow him, wherever that may take us. And it may be without the protection of human resources, but to really put our faith in the resource of the Word of the Lord.
Fr. Jeremy Davis 19:38
Thank you. I'm glad to be with you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 19:40
Thank you, Fr. Jeremy
Hollie Benton 19:41
Thank you, Fr. Jeremy.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai