Lent will be upon us in a few weeks, and sacrifice will be a key theme of the season, as you will see in the Lenten news items below. I realize that sacrifice is not a popular concept, because it communicates suffering and deprivation. But the fact of the matter is that in this Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus openly acknowledges the reality of human suffering in the world. Jesus never tries to avoid talking about difficult things, like sacrifice.
In his "Sermon on the Plain," like his "Sermon on the Mount" in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus heals the sick and addreses a large crowd of people to offer them comfort and hope in the midst of their very real suffering. Recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus assures the poor and downtrodden that their suffering will not be eternal, and that the wealthy and powerful will cease to enjoy their undeserved privileges. What Jesus is doing here is reminding everyone--rich and poor alike--of God's mercy and justice.
But we will not be passive observers of God's mercy and justice, Jesus teaches us, but rather, the agents of that mercy and justice. We are preparing for the Lenten season when we will be asked to repent, to "turn back" toward the path of God's mercy and justice, to mete it out to those we meet, and to embrace them as our fundamental values, the values that will drive our thoughts, words, and deeds. As followers of Jesus, we are called to a good kind of sacrifice by risking something precious of ourselves to alleviate the suffering of others. By denying ourselves on occasion, we make room for the other, that he or she may have enough, too. The Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are intended to teach us to make due with less, so that others might enjoy relief from suffering, have full bellies, and find cause to laugh and rejoice.