Sacrifice and Transfiguration

Posted in Uncategorized by fatherjimb on April 26, 2009

Many cultures had stories similar to the Abraham/Isaac sacrifice. In his novel, The Shack,(1) the author Bill Young describes the story of a dad who takes his children on a camping trip just before the school year starts. Part of the ritual of this particular destination was stopping to recall the following story:

“The foursome stopped at Multnomah Falls…Missy loved it here, and she begged her daddy to tell the legend of the beautiful Indian maid, the daughter of a chief of the Multnomah tribe. It took some coaxing, but Mack finally relented and retold the story as they all stared up into the mists shrouding the falling cascade.

“The tale centered on a princess, the only child left to her aging father. The chief loved his daughter dearly and carefully picked out a husband for her; a young warrior chief of the Clatsop tribe, whom he knew she loved. The two tribes came together to celebrate the days of the wedding feast, but before it could begin, a terrible sickness began to spread among the men, killing many.

“The elders and the chiefs met to discuss what they could do about the wasting disease that was quickly decimating their warriors. The oldest medicine man among them spoke of how his own father, when aged and near death, had foretold of a terrible sickness that would kill their men, an illness that could only be stopped if a pure and innocent daughter of a chief would willingly give up her life for her people. In order to fulfill the prophecy, she must voluntarily climb to a cliff above the Big River and from there jump to her death onto the rocks below.

“A dozen young women, all daughters of the various chiefs, were brought before the council. After considerable debate the elders decided that they could not ask for such a precious sacrifice, especially for a legend they weren’t sure was true.

“But the disease continued to spread unabated among the men and eventually the young warrior chief, the husband-to-be, fell ill with the sickness. The princess who loved him knew in her heart that something had to be done, and after cooling his fever and kissing him softly on the forehead, she slipped away.

“It took her all night and the next day to reach the place spoken of in the legend, a towering cliff over looking the Big River and the lands beyond. After praying and giving herself to the Great Spirit, she fulfilled the prophecy by jumping without hesitation to her death on the rocks below.

“Back at the villages the next morning, those who had been sick arose well and strong. There was great joy and celebration until the young warrior discovered that his beloved bride was missing. As the awareness of what had happened spread rapidly among the people, many began the journey to the place where they knew they would find her. As they slightly gathered around her broken body at the base of the cliff, her grief-stricken father cried out to the Great Spirit, asking that her sacrifice would always be remembered. At that moment, the water began to fall from the place where she had jumped, turning into a fine mist that fell at their feet slowly forming a beautiful pool.

The story really does not end there, just as the Abraham and Isaac of Jesus at the Transfiguration. What is revelatory is the conversation the Dad and his youngest have later that evening.. The Dad is tucking his two daughters into bed and hearing their prayers…

“…when it came to Missy’s turn to pray she wanted to talk instead.
“Daddy, how come she had to die?” It took Mack a moment to figure out who it was that Missy was talking about, suddenly realizing that the Multnomah princess must have been on her mind since they had stopped earlier.

“Honey, she didn’t have to die. She chose to die to save her people. They were very sick and she wanted them to be healed.”
There was a silence and Mack knew that another question was forming in the darkness.

“Did it really happen?” This time the question was from Kate, obviously interested in the conversation.

“Did what really happen?”

“Did the Indian princess really die? Is the story true?”

Mack thought before he spoke. “I don’t know, Kate. It’s legend and sometimes legends are stories that teach a lesson.”

“So, it didn’t really happen?” asked Missy.

“It might have sweetie. Sometimes legends are built from real stories, things that really happen.”

Again silence, then, “So is Jesus’ dying a legend?” Mack could hear the wheels turning in Kate’s mind.

“No honey, that’s a true story; and do you know what? I think the Indian princess story is probably true, too.”

Mack waited while his girls processed their thoughts. Missy was next to ask. “Is the Great Spirit another name for God-you know, Jesus’ papa?”

Mack smiled in the dark…”I would suppose so. It’s a good name for God because he is a Spirit and he is Great.”

“Then how come he’s so mean?”

Ah, here was the question that had been brewing. “What do you mean, Missy?”

“Well, the Great Spirit makes the princess jump off the cliff and makes Jesus die on a cross. That seems pretty mean to me.”

Mack was stuck. He wasn’t sure how to answer. At six and a half years old, Missy was asking questions that wise people had wrestled with for centuries.

“Sweetheart, Jesus didn’t think his daddy was mean. He thought his daddy was full of love and loved him very much. His daddy didn’t make he die. Jesus chose to die because he and his daddy love you and me and everyone in the world. He saved us from our sickness, just like the princess.”

Now came the longest silence, and Mack was beginning to wonder if the girls had fallen asleep. Just as he as about to lean over and kiss them good night, a little voice with a noticeable quiver broke into the quiet.


“Yes, honey?”

“Will I ever have to jump off a cliff?”

Mack’s heart broke as he understood what this conversation had really been about. He gathered his little girls into his arms and pulled her close. With his own voice a little huskier thatn usual, he gently replied, “No honey. I will never ask you to jump off a cliff, never, ever, ever.”

“Then will God ever ask me to jump off a cliff?”

“No Missy. He would never ask you to do anything like that.”

She snuggled deeper into his arms. “Okay! Hold me close. G’night Daddy. I love you.” And she was out, drifting deep into a sound sleep with only good and sweet dreams.

You know each time we hear the stories about Abraham and Isaac and then about Jesus’ Transfiguration, we forget an important character in the story. The papa. Just like the Dad in this story when asked if God will ever asks one of his children to jump off a cliff, God responds like a loving and gentle parent. He wants to cradle us in his arms and give us sweet dreams.

In the Abraham and Isaac story, there are two fathers. Abraham plays the part of father and child. He is a father to Isaac, forced as a son of God to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham, the son trusts that when God asks him to jump off the cliff and sacrifice his son that God loves him. He willingly, just like the princess, takes the leap. And God stops him.

In the Transfiguration story, the human side of Jesus knows he is going to die. He is willingly and willfully taking the journey to Jerusalem where the cliff of the cross awaits him. He also realizes that he is divine. He loves his heavenly Father. What do you think his father feels at this moment? We really are not told but as a father, I can imagine that he is dreading any harm which must come to his son, just like Abraham. And yet just like Abraham, he must sacrifice his son. There is no saving angel for Jesus, some might say. Jesus will suffer and die. Yet the Transfiguration tells us a different story. There will be glory and eternal life after the cliff.

Now that we are grown, we know that Mack wanted to protect his daughters and told them they would not have to jump off a cliff. Now that we are mature, we know that each of us has to march up to a precipice and decide what to do…some will need to not question why God took a spouse so early…some will face economic disaster…some will be in an abusive relationship…some will endure sickness.

Whatever our cliff, Easter tell us that God will be there. He is our loving father, always our advocate. His promise is not a world free of pain and suffering and sacrifice. It is a covenant to always be with us. He will march to Calvary with us and he will be waiting for us in his Kingdom. So, we must not ask if God will ever ask us to jump off a cliff, we should ask which one.

(1) The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity. Wm. Paul Young. Copyright 2007

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