Summary: Jesus had to die for us, his enemies, because the Father promised it to Abraham.
Good Friday 2013
Holy Week 2013
The psalms of Good Friday are the prayers of Jesus on the cross. If we are to understand better why, in my question of yesterday, we must believe that God did not make a mistake in making man, and, in the question of today, why Jesus had to die such a cruel death, we need to consider all of these psalms. In psalm 38, we sing, “Those who seek my ruin speak of harm; they plan their treachery all the day long.” Jesus saw them from the cross, saw his enemies. He died for them, just as He died for all of us.
Consider first the conspirators, the leaders of the Jerusalem Jews. Their primary motive was not the right praise of God, the drawing of all men to obedience and worship of the One God. That had been the call of Abraham, the whole reason for God gathering a people for Himself. In the right praise of God we fulfill our destiny, we perform our role in the unification of the human family with the Divine Family, the Trinity. But the cabal of Pharisees and Sadducees and high priests who ran Jerusalem, ever since Herod the Great captured the city seventy years earlier, had maneuvered to retain whatever power and independence they could. With power came wealth and what passed for respect, even though they were collaborators with the occupying Romans. This Jeshua, Galilean prophet, like Theudas and all his earlier so-called Messiahs was going to ruin that. He obviously was a revolutionary, because He had started Holy Week by overturning the vendors’s stalls in the Court of the Gentiles. Technically this madman had been right–the Court of the Gentiles was the area in which the Jews were supposed to recruit and instruct non-Jews in right worship and the Law. But they had pretty well given up on that, so why would the priests not put the space to use creating a profit so they could run the Temple? Jesus was attracting a crowd, especially with this raising of Lazarus. Their focus was power, and money, and keeping a lid on things so the Romans didn’t throw them out and oppress the people even further. Wasn’t that worth the death of an itinerant rabbi?
Then there was the rabble, for whom they had no respect. When Jesus entered the city, they followed the Galilean mob that had come up for Passover. The Jerusalem rabble had no interest in drawing the nations to right worship either. They had their own concerns, mostly satisfying their appetites. So they bought and sold and broke all the commandments, which was why the Pharisees held them in contempt. But they had a voice, so they were useful. They all hated the Romans, and they all valued the Temple because it was a tourist attraction. So when this Jesus attacked the Romans, told them to pay their taxes to Caesar, and preached love of their enemies, they realized He was not the Messiah they wanted. So when it came time to choose someone for Passover clemency, they chose the Messiah they wanted–Jeshuah Barrabas–who had caused a minor rebellion and killed some Romans. Not this guy who stood before them in chains, was sarcastically called King of the Jews by Pilate, and wanted peace. Nope. “Give us Barrabas–crucify this Galilean upstart. He doesn’t stand for what we want, and he wants us to give up our illicit habits.”
The evil that sinks its roots into the human heart, that corrupts both our minds and our wills, is, in the Scholastic mind, infinitely offensive. Why is that? Because we are designed to be images and likenesses of God, with minds that seek only the truth and wills that pursue only the good. Evil habits are offensives against both the True and the Good–and the Beautiful, too, if we are really honest. That evil is so all-engaging that, if you think about it, those who are mired in vicious habits actually define themselves by their sin. Consider the nouns: gangster, gang member, gang-banger, abortionist (or “women’s health provider”), homosexual, “player.” The Christian allows God to define who he is–a follower of Christ.
So it’s true. An infinite offense, an infinitely engaging evil, demands infinite repair. Only God can fix it. And that’s what He promised to Abraham when A. showed himself willing to sacrifice his only Son, his beloved. God promised that if Abraham or his descendants violated the covenant, God himself would pay the blood price. That’s why God the Son became fully human while remaining fully divine. As God He could not die, so we gave Him the gift of mortality. As sinners we could not share in the divine nature, so God gave us the sacraments as means to immerse ourselves in Christ. We die to our sinful nature and are adopted into the divine nature. That’s why the liturgy calls it an “admirable exchange.” That’s why Jesus had to die. He died because the Father promised it, and He is always faithful to His promises.