Offers food for thought
Part Six of the Lenten Series
The theme of today’s liturgy, and throughout Holy Week, is clear that what Jesus freely chose to experience for us; the ridicule, arrest, torture and death, is a manifestation of God’s boundless love. Out of love for his Father and all of creation, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” to destroy the power of death. He says to all who hope in Him, “because I live, you shall live also”. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.” By being obedient to death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities". Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.
The Palm Sunday liturgy is both a reminder of triumph and the tragedy. It is triumph as he entered Jerusalem and as he died on the cross. For the followers and the curious, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an occasion of great joy and celebration. They loved Him, shouting and waving branches and making a royal path. The people were joyfully celebrating Jesus the king, the Liberator of the heart and mind, the destroyer of sorrow and restorer of life and joy. There was a triumphant joy among his followers that Jesus himself joined to all of creation which had groaned for this moment of salvation, as he said "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
It is also an example for us of what is necessary for our triumph over sin and to live in freedom. He shows us some of the fruits of righteousness in God. Jesus hears and does what the Father says and desires, he listens and is obedient as he is moved by his love to encounter us in our depravity and communicate grace so that we might be transformed and enter that new life of freedom in truth. In the garden, Jesus stands authoritatively firm and charitable to those who came to arrest him, even to Judas who betrays him with a kiss. In the face of ridicule and interrogation, he maintains his dignity and remains steadfastly resolved. During the betrayals of Peter, the silence and absence of the other apostles and the lukewarm faith of the ones who followed him; he continues to think of nothing but the needs of humanity, forgiveness of the persecutors crimes, and the coming victory of his love over death and darkness.
It was a tragedy as the dark forces inspired rage, hatred, fear and despair even in his closest friends. But even as emotions raged, having been fueled by the words of the Sanhedrin after the raising of Lazarus, "everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation," the voice and plan of God could be heard and seen in the words of the high priest Caiaphas as he unknowingly prophesied: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”
The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of "the righteous one, my Servant" as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. Citing a confession of faith that he himself had "received", St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”
How did Jesus save us?
The sacrifice of Jesus "for the sins of the whole world” expresses his loving communion with the Father. From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father's plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son". Although Man's sins are punishable by death we "were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”.
John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and as the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel's redemption at the first Passover. Christ's whole life expresses his mission: "to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” In suffering and death, by embracing in his human heart the Father's love for men, his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men.
It is love "to the end” that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemptive and reparative, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take upon himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Whether that atonement had to occur in the way that it did has been a matter of theological debate. Some wonder, what kind of loving God would demand such horrific suffering to ensure divine justice? As the Scriptures have taught, the people have always believed and the Church has affirmed; the sacrifice was necessary -- but even St. Augustine of Hippo, asked in his De Trinitate: "Is it necessary to think that being God, the Father was angry with us, saw his son die for us and thus abated his anger against us?"
St. Anselm, who was the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury and was declared a ‘Doctor of the Church, said in his book entitled Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”), that human sin has “infinitely offended” God and that God requires an “infinite satisfaction” in order to restore divine honor. He taught that Christ's sacrificial death was necessary to liberate humanity from sin and restore communion with the Father, that the blood of Jesus was "payment" to God for human sin. Although the theology of salvation affirmed in the work by St. Anselm in his late 70’s and just 10 years before his death, prevailed, it was challenged by scholars such as the very young philosopher Peter Abelard, a contemporary of Anselm, who insisted that Christ's death on the cross had been an act of love, not payment.
As is true in so many philosophical and theological discussions / wars of competing ideas, both aspects are essential to understanding how and why we are saved by the cross. Each focuses on a particular aspect but neither need negate the truth exposed by the other.
Part One of the Lenten Series
Part Two of the Lenten Series
Part Three of the Lenten Series
Part Four of the Lenten Series
Part Five of the Lenten Series
Conclusion of the Lenten Series
Audio version of this homily, as preached at Mass
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.