The Greatest Love of All

Hello again reader! I have returned. It has been a whirlwind of a February for me; what with a new job, new responsibilities and the coming of Spring and warmer weather, I took a unannounced, unintended sabbatical from this site. But unintentional breaks from websites one uses to keep up their writing skills only lasts so long, thus I have returned; a little frazzled, a little unsure of how often I will be able to post, but still returned all the same.

I hope you enjoy this little post as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Throughout the ages, authors have created stories about all topics related to human nature. And all of these stories have been inspired by the original story regarding human nature: the Bible. Each noble and ignoble trait an author can infuse in their characters originate from Scripture–especially when it comes to the sacrifices of friends.

Stories based off such a noble sacrifice are merely, in one way or another, spin-offs of the original story of laying down one’s life: Christ sacrificing Himself for the human race. Countless examples of such spin-offs can be found in the works of William Shakespeare, who portrays the greatest sacrifice of laying down one’s life for another through his characters’ dialogues and actions. In one of his plays, The Merchant of Venice, Antonio’s love for Bassanio through his words and deeds is a symbolization of Christ’s love for humanity on the cross.

To fully understand the symbolization, one needs to understand the background of the pound of flesh. In the beginning of the play, we are introduced to Bassanio, a man greatly in debt and asking the help of his friend Antonio to procure him money enough that he can travel to marry a wealthy woman and clear his debts. Antonio willingly agrees, but as he had no money on him at the moment, he promises to be the surety so Bassanio could use the money from another lender. This other lender is Shylock, a rich Jew who harbors every grievance against him with a bitter, stewing hatred towards the perpetrator. Shylock agrees to lend the money on the condition that if Bassanio or Antonio is unable to pay him back, they will forfeit with a pound of flesh off of Antonio’s person, wherever Shylock pleases to extract it. Despite Bassanio’s disagreement, Antonio consents to the terms.

It seems here that Shakespeare is creating a parallel to the greatest story ever written. Christ, per Paul in Philippians 2:5-7, “did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Christ gave His life in exchange for the human race; in exchange for people who were already in debt to Him for giving grace, allowing sins to be forgiven through the sacrifice of animals instead of their lives. It does not seem fair that One so unblemished, One Who is equal with God, should be the One Who dies in a sinner’s stead when the sinner is the guilty one.

The parallel to humanity’s redemption story in The Merchant of Venice is very similar; here is Antonio, a man who has it all: wealth, friends, a good life, and he is willing to put all of that on the line for his friend–a friend who owes him a debt already. The terms are unfair, for why should Antonio be the one whose flesh is removed if Bassanio is the one who owes the money?

The answer in both cases is stated in both books–in the Bible more than once. Ephesians 5:1-2 says “be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.” In The Merchant of Venice, Antonio tells Bassanio to

Commend me to your honourable wife: tell her the process of Anotonio’s end; say how I lov’d you; speak me fair in death; and when the tale is told, bid her be judge whether Bassanio had not once a love. Repent but you that you shall lose your friend, and he repents not that he pays your debt. . .

Just as Christ loved man, Antonio loved Bassanio, more than life itself, and that is the greatest love one could have towards their fellow man, for

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

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