Duty and Sacrifice

“When you have done all that you  were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'” (Lk. 17:10).  Duty is doing that which is demanded of you by those who have authority over you or by the station you occupy.  So a father does his duty when he teaches and plays with his children.  A sailor does his duty when he obeys an order from his ranking officer.

Sacrifice is generally understood as giving up something of value so that a greater good is achieved.  Inherent in this idea of sacrifice is that the thing given up didn’t have to be given up. But doing our duty is not sacrificing.  A man does not sacrifice freedom to raise a family.  Raising a family is his duty.  A woman does not sacrifice her career when she becomes a mother.  Becoming a mother is her duty.  A parishioner does not sacrifice what his money could have given him when he puts it in the offering plate.  Giving is his duty.  The fact that these things – becoming a father, mother, husband, or wife, or giving money to the Church – causes other things to be unachievable is accidental not and not essential to duty.  The idea that doing our duty is our sacrifice is not sacrifice at all but vainglory.

When a Christian is martyred he is to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you given your tithes and offerings off the top of your income you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you preach and teach and are drug through congregational muck and mire, enduring sleepless nights and pain-filled days, you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you have to miss golf to take your family to church you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  When you have done your duty you are to say, “We are but unworthy servants.”  You may like or dislike your duty, you may love or hate your duty, but in the end, your duty is, well, your duty.  You do it.  Any glory in doing your duty is the glory of receiving the commendation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  To know your duty, read the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism.

Claiming that we have sacrificed our lives for the gospel, our lifestyle for the Church, our dignity for the pulpit, our hobbies for our children is a lie and self-serving.  You do not belong to yourself. You belong to another.  (By the by, the Christian is not the only one who belongs to another.  So too, the unbeliever.  He belongs to the evil one and is his servant doing his master’s bidding.)  We often call doing our duty sacrifice.  But it’s not.  We are incapable of sacrificing ourselves.  We are not, however, incapable of being sacrificed for others.

When the Christian’s blood is spilled in martyrdom so that I may worship, he has been sacrificed for me.  When the woman gives two pennies – all she has – so that I may eat, she has been sacrificed for me.  The pastor who is abused and yet continues to do his duty and so brings me Christ, has been sacrificed for me.  My father who did his duty and raised me and taught me, was sacrificed for me.  So, too, my mother.  They did not sacrifice themselves, they did their duty.  But my heavenly Father who gave them to me sacrificed them for me.  “All day long we are a sheep before the shearer.”  Not for our sakes, but for our neighbor’s (Ro. 8:34-36).

All the sacrifices of the Old Testament (a broad statement, I know) where not the sacrifices of the people to God, but were God’s gift to the people.  The people did not appease God’s wrath by their sacrifices – a pagan notion – but God vented His wrath on the sacrifice and so spared the people.  So, too, the Christ.  Jesus came to do His Father’s will.  The Father’s will was for Jesus to be a sacrifice. The Father sacrificed the Son for us.  He provided the Lamb.  Jesus did His duty.  This doesn’t take away from Jesus’ honor or glory.  He is seated at the right hand of God.  His is dominion, power, and authority.  He is made Lord of all because He was obedient; because He did His duty.  We are saved because He did His duty.

And because we are saved we bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.  We offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.  But even here we are not sacrificing anything to please God or to make God happy with us.  We are not giving God something He does not have without us.  Here we are doing our duty to God, calling on the name of the Lord, giving honor where honor is due; singing His praise and His glory; confessing His holy name.  This becomes our sacrifice because the Father accepts it.  Why does He accept it? Because of Jesus.  Our praise is Jesus’ praise of His Father. Our worship of the Father is Jesus’ worship of the Father.  Our worship is acceptable to God because it is sanctified by the blood of Jesus.

In the economy of the Blessed Trinity we worship the Father with the Son by the indwelling of the Spirit.  We worship the Blessed Trinity by giving glory and honor to God who orchestrated and accomplished our salvation, the Father sending the Son and the Son giving His Spirit and the Spirit uniting us with the Son who brings us before His Father. Not spiritually, that is, contra to the material world.  And not in the future where now we only partake of a foreshadow.  But now.

The Spirit is poured out on all flesh, creating faith when and where He please in those elected of the Father, and gathers them to the Son who offers them to the Father as His holy bride.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for your words, especially on duty.

    On sacrifice, there is some research which shows how far our modern concept of sacrifice has departed from the ancient, whether Hebrew or pagan. For the most part we think of sacrifice as a depravation — which ought to be as small as possible. The ancients thought of sacrifice as a gift offered with joy — which ought to be as large as one could afford. The outcome is that we have a hard time understanding the word as it is used by the ancients. A great book on the subject is “The Origins of the Christian Doctrine of Sacrifice”, by Robert J. Daly, S.J.

    Fr. Alexander Schmemann has also said the the essence of the ancient understanding of sacrifice is love. One gives out of love for the recipient. What does this tell us about Jesus? I think it changes the dynamics of atonement entirely. It is not primarily about a wrathful Father requiring his pound of flesh, but a loving Son giving himself in love to seal the covenant of forgiveness with his (God’s) people.

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