Summary: Jesus went willingly to His death for our sakes, to fulfill the covenant obligation God freely took on with Abraham.
We killed Him. O, I know the Roman procurator read the sentence, and Roman soldiers beat Jesus and crowned Him with thorns and hammered in the nails. They were what philosophers would call the “efficient cause” of Christ’s death. But Adam and Eve and David and Caligula and Napoleon and you and I–we are the final cause of Christ’s death. Every act of murder and infidelity and theft and extortion, every line of gossip and intended thought of revenge and lust that separated any human being from God’s grace was the reason Jesus had to die, the reason He willed Himself to be unjustly crucified. Yes, we killed Him. He loved us sinners and so He had to die.
It’s ironic that the only infinite thing that we finite creatures can do of ourselves is to sin. When we sin, we commit an infinite offense because we sin against the Divine Will. We turn our backs on our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier. We treat His gift of divine life as garbage. We say, “well, we’ve already had a couple of kids so we’ll rely on contraception instead of natural methods and avoid any more. Yes, it’s not God’s plan, but it’s a better plan.” We think, “the Federal government misuses our money for all kinds of awful things, so I’ll shave my income and avoid paying all that tax.” We lie, cheat and steal, not because they are evil, but because they give us some advantage in life–in this life–or so we think.
So an infinite offense demands infinite satisfaction. The covenant is broken, and somebody has to pay. That’s the way life is, isn’t it? The ancient people formalized it thousands of years ago. Abraham, our father in faith, heard God’s call and said “yes” whenever he was commanded to do something. So God made three covenants with Abraham, and promised him a land and an eternal posterity, countless descendants. The last of the covenants was one-sided. Abraham had obeyed God all the way to the brink of offering his only son as a sacrifice. So God made the one-sided covenant with Abraham, promising him eternal faithfulness, even to the point of God paying the price if Abraham’s descendants violated the agreement. The ultimate price, of course, is death. And to keep that promise, the very Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, battered and bruised and bloody, climbed the hill of Calvary and willingly suffered and died for us, in our stead. Abraham was ready to offer his only-begotten son, but didn’t have to do it. God, though, loved us so much that He did give His only-begotten Son, and we gather over the next two weeks in a special double octave to praise and thank Him and celebrate that incredible gift.
In reflecting on the passion and death of Jesus, I recall some thoughts I had when I was a child. Jesus was divine, after all, so the pain of his suffering was really nothing in His divine person. He could take it like one of us could take a pin-prick or a paper cut. It mustn’t have been a big deal.
But how do we then explain the agony in the garden, when Jesus cried out to the Father to take the chalice of suffering away from Him? How do we rationalize His sweating of blood, which Luke the physician records and which the Holy Shroud appears to confirm? No, we may never allow ourselves to forget that Jesus was a divine person with both divine and human natures, and that the human nature was not dissolved in the divine like a drop of water in the sea. That is the Monophysite heresy. No human person could have been more human than this divine person. He had the fullness of divinity, but also the fullness of humanity. No human person has ever suffered like Jesus. You know what His worst suffering must have been? It was the clear understanding that He was all alone, that the very people He was suffering and dying for were fleeing from Him, even the one they called the Rock, His chosen leader, Simon Peter. He had to have seen me turning my back on Him the many times I have. He saw all of us with His divine insight and knowledge, and He saw those who would turn their backs on Him forever, and that pained Him far more than any nail or spear could ever hurt.
And what did He do? He took it all, because He knew that we couldn’t. He kept that final cause in mind because of a Love that we can not even imagine, Love for the very people who were murdering Him. He prayed, over and over again, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He prayed for me, for the many times I have injured Him by injuring my brothers and sisters, for my profanity and sloth and self-indulgence. “Father, forgive Pat, because he just doesn’t get it.” All of us miss the point so frequently, don’t we? All of us misunderstand that the Father’s will, which we pray to be done so often, is better for us than our own will.