When people talk about Christ dying for us, sometimes the term “giving up his life” is used idiomatically, and rightly so; but we might forget that he did give up his life in the literal sense too.
According to the Protoevangelium of James, Mary planned to dedicate herself as a maiden to the Temple. We read of women performing this kind dedication such as Anna did (Luke 2:36-38). According to the same document by James, the elders selected Joseph to be the protector of Mary. The story “continues” in the Gospel of Luke where we learn Joseph is betrothed to Mary and eventually takes him as his wife.
This was their plan but the Annunciation interrupted that. God asked Mary to be the mother of the Messiah. God also asked Joseph to “name the child” of Mary – a way of saying that he should be the father of the child. (During the circumcision, it is the father of the child who gives the name of the child as a way of declaring that he attaching the child to his lineage.) This changed the plans of both Joseph and Mary who were planning a simpler life. Instead, they had to go to Egypt in the dead of night to flee from Herod’s murderous plan. We can just imagine Joseph trying to earn a living in a place where he had no shop and didn’t have the usual customers who knew he did carpentry work. We can probably imagine Mary trying to live in a culture and language not inherently her own. Mary’s dedication to being of service to the Temple would have required her to remain a virgin but she and Joseph had to raise a child when they hadn’t planned to. In short, they gave up their plans because God had something else for them. We can say they “gave up their lives.”
When we look at the life of Jesus, he did the same thing. He could have taken a wife, raised children, and lived to a ripe old age surrounded by grandchildren. But that wasn’t what God was asking from him. Instead of establishing a business and raising a family, he started a ministry. At the age of thirty or so (an age when it was odd not to have a wife in that time’s culture), he trained apostles and disciples, for three years, to continue his work in anticipation of his Ascension. Just like Mary and Joseph, he didn’t choose what he wanted to do. Instead, he chose to do the Father’s will. He literally gave up his life.
We know the purpose of this of course: it is for our salvation. For him to give up his life this way, each of us must be important to Christ and we must thank him in every way we can.
Our call is to be configured to Christ and we should ask we can, in our own state of life, be like Christ this way? For married couples, a new twist is applied to Saint Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians when he said: “husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” In this sense, he is asking husbands to replace their own (sometimes selfish) plans and activities so that the spouse is the priority in everything. This of course means, wives must also do likewise with their husbands, and together with their children.
For those who are single, we might have inadvertently learned to live a self-centered life. Most things are now instant and solo. Whereas families would gather around the radio to listen to news, today earphones and gadgets allow us to listen to our playlists on our own. Before, friends would go to movies or watch television together, but now we prefer to stream our favorite TV shows on our own gadgets. Prior to the Smartphone, we needed the help of people to take a photo of us, now we can take selfies with the aid of a stick. These aren’t bad on their own, as technology is a wonderful thing, but we shouldn’t let it give way to a “me, my, mine” culture. A way to balance this is to find a vocation and dedicate our lives to it. Maybe the parish is in need of help in its projects. Maybe the nearby orphanage or soup kitchen needs volunteers. If our parents are alive, maybe we can care for them with even more fervor.
We shouldn’t mislead ourselves saying we are already dedicated to our work, our business, or our hobbies, because these are about us. These are not bad at all because we do have to earn a living and indulge in activities, but in order to overcome the “me” culture, we must dedicate ourselves to do something for others. Imagining a culture where everyone lives for the other is heavenly. If we think about it, that is what heaven can be like – for those in heaven have learned to love others. Earth will never be heaven, but maybe we can have a tiny taste of it, and we can do it by becoming other Christs by giving up our lives for others.