Animals are…well..animals and they do some things that don’t always make sense to us. In late 2013, a mama sloth bear in the Smithsonian’s National Zoo gave birth to the first of what would be three cubs. Shortly after the baby was born, she proceeded to eat her young, much to the horror of the keepers who were watching on closed-circuit television. She then gave birth to the other two cubs and everything seemed normal as she nurtured them for the next week. Suddenly, she ate a second cub. By now, her keepers knew that they must intervene so they took the third tiny bear away from its mom. Turns out that the baby was sick, probably having caught a virus that ran through all the sloths over the next few days.
Still, the thought of mamas eating their offspring is exponentially repulsive to most of us. The idea of mothers, even animal mothers, thoughtlessly ignoring or destroying their young grates at every decent thought we can form. We can excuse an animal, though. It’s the stories of young human mothers who have a baby, then abandon it in a dumpster that screams INJUSTICE. Such selfishness makes us want that parent to be caught and punished harshly.
Contrast those atrocities with mama polar bears. They must put on over 400 pounds of weight just to get pregnant (they eat seal blubber, not ice cream), but then they fast for eight months during their pregnancy. They go through a bear form of feasting, then fasting so that they can have healthy babies. Something about the discipline it takes to do both causes us to rise up and cheer.
Do you remember the 1988 story of the Armenian mother who was trapped for eight days with her four-year-old daughter in a collapsed building caused by an earthquake? After she gave her daughter their only food, a jar of blackberry jam that had miraculously landed with them as the nine story structure fell on top of them, they had nothing else to eat. “I’m thirsty, mommy,” said the child. The mom, barely able to move, chose to do something she had heard about somewhere. She cut her finger and gave some of her own blood to her daughter. Then she kept doing it for days! They were starving and dying of thirst. The mother cared nothing for her own survival; she was willing to drain out her own lifeblood to save her child. Miraculously, they both lived.
Selfishness or sacrifice? We all face the question of whether we will be more like the polar bear or the sloth. Will we end up doing the desperately selfish act of discarding others to go on with our own lives or will we give our lives away so that others might live?
We HOPE that we will be the ones who sacrifice. But this is not a choice which we usually make just one time. We keep making it over and over again, each time deciding who will pay and who will reap the benefits. It’s those decisions that must be faced as we consider what it means to “Pay It Forward.” That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church and I hope you will be in one of our services to hear about it. Can’t join us? Catch the podcast!