Monday, September 29, 2014

Questions About Gender and Sacrifice

Here's a thought that I'd like to investigate more, but after months of it bouncing around, I have to come to grips with the fact that I'm never going to research this, so if you need a thesis or something, feel free to use it and run with it. Just let me know when it's done because I'd like to read it. (Or if this research has already been done, I'd like to know that, too.)

Some months ago, I read a devotional where the point was the wonder about how God gave up His (pronoun used intentionally) son for the better of the whole world, how much God loves us to sacrifice His son for us.

This is not new, obviously, but it strikes me as a view that is falling out of favor. It almost felt archaic.

Then I noticed it was written by a man and I started thinking about gender expectations of children (adult children, primarily). Generations and generations of men raised sons to be warriors, sent them off to war, expected that some would be lost to a "greater cause."

(And in this paradigm, I could argue that the fact that Jesus did not present as a warrior-son is the subversive aspect of the Gospel stories, but that is a rabbit-trail I'm not here to follow tonight.)

Then I think of Jesus on the cross, abandoned by God and most of his male friends (not all). God the Father leaves the child to cry out "why have you forsaken me?" but Mary the mother stays at the foot of the cross.

Which led me to thinking about stories about children being killed by their parents. Medea came to mind as perhaps the most well-known story from antiquity about a mother killing her children, and in a thread I started on Facebook, someone pointed out the parallels with the Mexican legend of La Llorona; both mothers kill their children to spite an unfaithful husband. There are Biblical stories, like Jepthah's daughter, and I came across a grisly custom in entombing still-living children in the foundation of a castle to appease gods and keep the castle safe. In a very superficial, cursory survey of these stories, I can't tell if there is a pattern that outlines gender expectations and gender archetypes. Is there a pattern in reasons for killing a child that suggests fathers kill for one reason, mothers another? Is there a pattern for the age of the children being sacrificed? Other patterns in this rather morbid topic?

Back to Jesus. This notion that God sent His Son to die a horrific death doesn't sell so well anymore and I'm not sure I buy it. I think the cross is hugely important, but I'm not convinced it's a sign of God's love that Jesus endured it. I think it's a sign of our resistance to the Reign of God. I'm therefore intrigued by people who still are buying that part of the story, or that subtext to the story. God really loves me, so God sent a child to die for me. There's a factor in there that I find uncomfortable. And I wonder if we would have formulated the subtext thus if we had stronger Mother images for the First Person of the Trinity.

In closing, I'm going to leave with a few lines from the very fine writer Andre Dubus and his oft-anthologized story, "A Father's Story."  Without telling too much of the story, I'll just drop these lines the main character says to God:

 " . . . I could bear the pain of watching and knowing my sons' pain, could bear it with pride as they took the whip and nails. But You never had a daughter, and if You had, You could not have borne her passion." 

Do with that as you will . . . I hope someone does this research for me . . .

[ My novella, Cary and John, is now available on or from the publisher.]

1 comment:

  1. I don't see it as the Father sending his son to die, but, if I may quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church " 609 By embracing in his human heart the Father's love for men, Jesus "loved them to the end", for "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."425 In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men.426 Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord."427 Hence the sovereign freedom of God's Son as he went out to his death.428 "