If you have not read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and are looking forward to doing so, you might not want to read the rest of this post because I’m going to spoil a significant event from the second chapter.
My students and I are reading this in class. Most of the students I think have watched the movie and “know” how the book ends. I’ve not watched the movie nor have finished the book.
I enjoy reading through books with the students because we take it slow. We deconstruct things, analyze character motivations, their personalities and talk about recurring themes seen in the book.
At the outset, one of the predominant themes is sacrifice. And as I read about what Katniss does for her sister Prim, I can’t stop thinking about the sacrifice of Christ, literally and figuratively.
In the first chapter, we learn that the country of Panem rose out of what used to be North America after it had experienced droughts, storms, fires and a “brutal war for what little sustenance remained” (18). Out of this also rose the Capitol which is sort of like the federal government brining “peace and prosperity to its citizens” (18). Then there was a rebellion. The districts rebelled against the Capitol and lost. These were called the Dark Days. As a punishment against the districts, the Capitol instituted the Hunger Games as a “yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated” (18).
In the games, one boy and girl tribute (participant) are selected from each district on the Reaping Day. In the games, they are forced to fight each other and others to the death. This is the Capitol’s reminder to the districts that they are in control.
On the Reaping Day, everyone gathers in the town center to hear the names called. Prim, Katniss’s twelve year-old little sister is selected for the games. But Katniss, who loves her sister very much, fights through the crowd and volunteers to take her sister’s place.
“I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!” (22).
The reaction to the sacrifice made before them silently amazes everyone in the town centre. They salute Katniss for her sacrifice; “Almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to the their lips and hold it out to me” (24) says Katniss. And I love the writing here. Collins tells us why the crowd is so moved: what Katniss does, volunteering herself in place of her sister never happens. Katniss says, “What I did was the radical thing” (26).
When I hear that word “radical” to me it often connotes something that is completely unexplainable. It’s asking “Why?” and never receiving a response. Very often, the only answer to someone’s radical sacrifice is radical love and selflessness. Or as the Bible puts it, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). What Jesus did on the cross was far more radical. Katniss gave her life for her little sister. One person. But Jesus said, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus died for many. A ransom is paid to free a person from a captor. The Bible says we’ve been taken captive by sin, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Katniss did not stay put when she saw her helpless sister on the path to certain death. She did something to save her. And God has done something radical to save us. Romans 5:6 says, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” This is sacrifice. 1 Peter 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” This is sacrifice. And Romans 5:8 says, “But God commended his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” This is radical love.
Katniss volunteered for her little sister who we may assume was good and innocent. The radical thing about Jesus is the quality of those he ransoms. Who did Jesus volunteer his life for? Sinners. The ungodly. That doesn’t make sense. Jesus died for bad people. That’s the reality. Who did he come for? Jesus said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meant, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). This qualifies all.
We are all sick with sin. Jesus could not come for anyone who is perfect and righteous because that person does not exist. You don’t know anyone perfect do you? And so, we need the physician to cut out godless hearts of stone for those that feel and are full of God. We need him to remove the cancer of living for what we think is right and infuse us with a desire to only please Him according to his Word. On the cross, Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Stripes? Stripes of pouring blood from the brutal and long scourging he received before his crucifixion. By the blood he spilled on the cross, we are healed. The immeasurable weight of everything Mankind deserves from the white lie, the lustful heart, the thieving hand, the greedy heart, the conceited independence, “the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
On him, who only always did what was perfect, right and holy.
On him, who took our punishment on the cross.
On him, who said, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
On him, who said, “Go, and sin no more.”
On him, whose compassion will never be matched.
On him, whose innocence and goodness makes Prim’s look evil.
Talk about volunteering!
In a world of fiction, the people of District 12 salute Katniss for her radical sacrifice. How will you salute Jesus for his in reality?