Lent is about understanding sacrifice in general and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in particular. As though this weren’t hard enough, more and more we live in a sacrifice-aversive culture, where many people hold that nothing is worth sacrificing our precious selves for, let alone dying for.
Ah, gentle baseball arrives just in time to moderate all this harshness. No, I’m not kidding. A moral philosopher at Princeton dissects the nature of the sacrifice bunt. John Bowlin writes of a runner stranded on base, unable to get home. The batter, on higher orders, lays down a bunt to advance him. Obeying the manager, it is all about getting the runner home. Kindly stick with us.
Of course, the bunter doesn’t want to be thrown out at first. He dashes down the first baseline at full tilt, knowing his safety is unlikely. We might ask: aren’t there other ways to advance the runner and bring him home? Surely yes, and others may tempt the batter to seek them instead.
Swinging for the fences brings rewards that bunting can’t. But the batter is not about self-glory and seeks not the acclaim of others. He is not about individual greatness, but acting in solidarity with the community he helps create. He knows it is all about getting the stranded runner home. The bunt is the most sure-handed way of doing this. In light of the higher hope, the bunt is best.
His own loss is the bunt’s unavoidable natural consequence. In higher obedience, he willingly abandons the personal glory of a base clearing slam, and chooses personal loss to make good on the essentials. He’d rather avoid it, but offers himself up for a greater cause, hoping to be reunited not just with the runner, but with all others, their cause consummated and completed.
If this comparison sounds inane, consider that if Jesus wanted to die on the cross, it would be a form of suicide. I hear Christians speak of Jesus’ eagerness to die, and I want to flinch. How can we talk about Jesus’ death without self-slaughter? Christ intended to obey the one who sent him. Christ prioritized the rescue of his friends and the gathering up all lost beloveds. He acted out of obedience and love, knowing full well he would suffer at the hands of our ambition. Still, he didn’t welcome this grief but willingly suffered it for the sake of a higher love governing him.
Anthropologists claim loving sacrifices unite division that human forms of separation will always create. Loving sacrifices reconcile our enmities, gathering the alienated, and forging closeness where distance formerly reigned. Loving sacrifice makes families out of strangers and enemies.
Of course, all analogies break down. Unlike baseball, Christ’s sacrifice did not create winners and losers, despite the brooding Good Friday lineup of Pilate and Herod, soldiers and deriders, mockers and scorners. Imagine even the other team somehow brought in the embrace of his love. I tell you, this joy is bigger than an opening day walk-off win for my beloved Detroit Tigers.