Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C St Austin, Austin TX Feb 10, 2019
As you know I am a member of the Paulist Fathers, and Paulists, not surprisingly, like St. Paul, both for his accomplishments and for his writings. We have a longer than usual portion of one of St. Paul’s letters as our second reading, and I would like to look at that.
Paul tells the Corinthians, and also us, what he handed on to us of first importance. This is not something he made up, but something he received, and has handed on to us. And he tells us that this is of FIRST IMPORTANCE, and so worthy of paying attention to. And it is this: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…..” This is what is of first importance for our faith and our salvation.
Therefore, I think this is worthwhile our spending some time to flesh it out and understand it better.
What do we mean when we say “Christ died for our sins”? How did Christ die for your sins and my sins? What is that all about?
Various answers have been given over the two thousand years of Christianity, and many of the answers were lame at best, and destructive at worst.
Did Christ die to appease an angry God? That sin offended God’s majesty and God was mollified or appeased by the terrible death of an innocent man, Jesus, to make up for the offense? NO! That is a bad understanding of Jesus’ salvific death.
Did Jesus die to somehow repay a debt to God? Humanity had offended God, wronged God, and now had to pay a sort of fine to re-establish friendship with God. Did Jesus repay our debt to God? NO!
So how is Jesus’ death on the cross salvific for you and for me? What does it have to do with us?
The salvific death of Jesus is a great mystery, which can never be fully explained nor totally comprehended. Its power and import and beauty are beyond what human words can express.
Nonetheless, we can still say somethings about the manner of Jesus’ death that are true. It is not so much that Jesus died. All people die, and unfortunately plenty of people die tragic, awful, unjust and painful deaths. It is not that Jesus died, but rather the manner in which Jesus approached, accepted, and endured His death, that was salvific. That condition of mind and heart with which Jesus accepted and embraced His death is called in the Bible “obedience.” This Biblical obedience is all about Jesus’ disposition. This is not like the obedience that a dog learns in obedience school. It is not like obedience in the military, where it does not matter if the soldier or sailor understands or agrees with the order, but only that the soldier or sailor do it.
No, the Biblical concept of obedience is rather about a harmony of will and action. Jesus remains true to the Father’s Will for him – proclaiming God’s Kingdom, God’s care and love for us, even though doing so would upset the usual way of doing things, and inevitably lead to conflict with the chief priests and the Romans, and ultimately end in death.
This obedience, this adherence of Jesus to God’s Will, by someone innocent and uncompromised, in a remarkable way heals you and me of our selfish willfulness that leads to disobedience and sin.
We are God’s. We are not totally self-contained units that have no connection to the universe or the power that brought the universe into being, and that sustains it in existence every instant. We are God’s children. But we do not live the life we are called to. We hurt others, ourselves, and creation We sin. And we are trapped in sin.
But thanks be to God, Jesus, by His perfect obedience to God’s Will for Him, lived fully in harmony with God’s Will, even to the point of death, death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2: 9-11
This, St. Paul tells us, is of first importance! Christ has not only shown us the way to truly live as the children of God, but by conquering death, He also enables us to share in His victory, so that we do not need to live in fear, and certainly not in hopelessness. But by sharing in a life and death like Jesus – that is, in the manner of His love and obedience to God our loving Father, we will also share in Christ’s resurrect life; to live for God forever! AMEN