Blood and Brutality, or Grace and Peace?

Blood and Brutality or Grace and Peace?

I remember when I was a kid in Sunday School, and I asked the teacher about the sacrifices in the Old Testament. I guess the lesson that day had something in it about sacrifices, about taking an animal, a goat or a bull or a lamb, and tying it up, and cutting its neck, and having the blood spill everywhere. It seemed so cruel, so mean, to the animals who had done nothing to deserve that end.

My parents had tried to raise us kids with compassion for animals — we had birds, turtles, mice, and a cat, and my mom was ALWAYS having to tell me to BE GENTLE. So the slaughter of an innocent animal seemed nothing other than cruelty. How could God require that when people sinned — broke the laws?

My Sunday School teacher — probably just a mom herself with no theological training — explained that that it was God’s way of showing us how serious our sin was. That it was to teach us that sin has a messy, sometimes bloody, effect in our lives. It would be later teachers who would explain that God needed to be paid for sin, that blood — life — was the cost of sin. “The wages of sin is death.”

Yeah, I think those later teachers REALLY misunderstood that verse from Romans. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord.” That verse is saying that our sins, our trespasses against each other, ultimately bring damage, destruction, and death. But God’s gift is life — that forgiveness and grace counteract those ill consequences.

My first teachers may have been right: the bloody sacrifice was to illustrate to us as a living lesson the consequences of our mistreatment of each other. The innocent suffer. Pain and death result.

Sin does cost life — causes loss of life — but blood is not the payment or the antidote. It is the result. Grace and love are the antidote.

I do not for a second (any longer) believe my later teachers who thought God needed that blood to be appeased. “You did something bad, so you have to pay me with blood. Life for sin.” That’s the kind of bad theology that influenced centuries of church thinking about what happened to Jesus on the cross: paying off God.

Sin does cost life — causes loss of life — but blood is not the payment or the antidote. It is the result. Grace and love are the antidote.

This week’s lectionary readings focus on fellowship, how the power of the Spirit among followers of Jesus caused them to do dramatic things to live in harmony, and to take care of each other. I wish we saw more of that these days. But even the section by the great Apostle of Love, John, seems to have some sacrificial taint to it. A verse we memorized as kids: “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus God’s Son cleanses us from all sin. … If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we own up to our failures, forgiveness and release is available: no need for more brutality.

Fellowship and harmony require forgiveness and grace. Faithfulness. I now read those references to blood in light of my earliest Sunday School teacher: not as payment to God, but a demonstration, the result and consequences of our bad behavior. That blood of Jesus was like the blood of those innocent animals whose throats had been cut by barbaric primitives. Those people didn’t know what they were doing. Blood and brutality were part of their culture, their sensibility. And that is exactly what “sin” — our actions that are opposite of love — result in: blood and brutality (just look around you). Maybe they needed that blunt object lesson. But the faithfulness and grace of God — and each of us — can overcome that brutality.

“Peace be with you,” the resurrected Jesus spoke to his disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” No need for bloody payment or retribution. “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” the Psalmist proclaims. Peace and unity is possible. But it’s gonna take a lot of grace. It may even take a supernatural impartation of the Spirit — and we all know how rare the supernatural can be if we’re not actively seeking it.

Maybe if we focused more on extending grace and peace to each other, we might tap into that divine harmony, that goodness and pleasantness of being able to live together in the fullness of what it means to be divinely human. And there’d be less of that “blood and brutality” that seems to surround us.

I’m not real good at this myself, but this is my commitment. My life goal. To walk in grace. To extend that grace to others. To be a better reflection of the goodness and faithfulness of our Creator. I wanna do my part to create that better world of fellowship and harmony. And wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all just did our little part in that?

Grace and peace to you this Sunday.

refs: 1 John 1:7-9; Psalm 133; John 20:19-31; Acts 4:32-35
Photo by Lampos Aritonang on Unsplash, cc.