Paying the Price to Save Our Skin

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Having “skin in the game” is a cliché with seemingly untraceable roots. Some credit Warren Buffett with it for his description of how CEOs of companies invest their own money in the same asset they hope investors will help support. Shared risk is seen as insurance that the asset’s best interests will be protected. Others credit William Shakespeare with introducing this concept of putting skin in the game through his Merchant of Venice. In this play, Shakespeare’s antagonist, Shylock, tells the story’s hero, Antonio, he must risk a pound of his own flesh as collateral against a loan made toAntonio’s friend Bassanio.

But as with many pearls of wisdom, the Bible seems the most likely inspiration for our concept of putting skin in the game. Sunday’s readings prove it, starting with mankind’s very Genesis (Gn 2:18-24).

The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. … That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.

Humanity’s invention of divorce has given Shylocks a good business for ripping that flesh apart. Leave it to such flesh-eating sharks to plot reroutes around God’s divine plan. But our Creator cut through the fat of man’s laws and found a way to reach directly into our hearts. By becoming one of us he took us back to our point of origin, when we were conceived in a moment of truth.  The skin God put in the game was eventually nailed to a cross and the truth of His word made flesh became the symbol of our faith. As Paul’s letter to the Hebrews explains (Heb 2:9-11),

He “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels, “that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. BUT… He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.”

But those brothers often put him to the test, hoping to avoid the responsibilities that came with his brotherhood. The vows we make before God—the Father we have in common with him—can get harder to keep as time and our passions change. Living with one person until death do we part? Life’s too short for that! There’s got to be a legal way out. Mark’s gospel tells us that’s what the Pharisees were thinking, anyway (Mk 10:2-16):

[They] approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife? … Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. … Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

As Jesus taught by example, putting skin in the game can bring pain and sorrow. But by paying that price, he saved our skin—and got our souls out of hock.

–Tom Andel

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