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For us and for our salvation.

Last Good Friday I was struck anew by the poor theolology in the version of the Stations of the Cross my parish used. The underlying theology in the Stations assumed that Jesus' purpose on earth was to suffer and die in order to save us from punishment for our sins, and that for us Jesus serves primarily as a model of the courage and stoicism with which we should meet our own deaths. The sermon made explicit this first assumption, insisting that the death of Jesus was not an execution, for God cannot be executed; Jesus had come to earth with the purpose of suffering and dying and in fact chose death upon the cross.

Clearly the penetration of contemporary biblical scholarship into the everyday life of the church, which began with the Second Vatican Council, is not complete, to the detriment of contemporary spirituality. Almost a hundred years of biblical scholarship has insisted on the need for the church to reconnect the death and resurrection of Jesus with his ministry. According to the gospels, Jesus' purpose and goal was to announce the imminent, immediate coming of the reign of God and to explain and exemplify the unexpected and demanding form that reign would take.

In the course of announcing, explaining, and exemplifying the coming reign of God, Jesus antagonized all the powerful social groups who saw no need for any changes that might have an impact on their roles. Jesus also alienated many of the common people whom he championed, and even some of his own followers, by insisting that the reign of God was a participatory phenomenon that called for the active transformation of all, including the renunciation of hard and fast traditional categories of righteousness. Jesus was not executed because his death was the way God had decided to save us. Jesus was executed because when God sent Jesus to save humanity, as the gospels detail, powerful people conspired to kill him in order to avoid the threat of social and personal transformation that he represented. That's why Jesus, left only with the options of death or abandoning his mission, allowed himself to be put to death.

God let Jesus die not because that was his choice for how to save the world, but for the same reason that God allowed the sin of Adam and Eve, the human sin that preceded the flood, and sin since the Resurrection. Freedom, as God explained in his speeches to Job, is part of the gift that God gave creation; not only humans but the seas, the wild animals, all of creation has freedom. The misuses of that freedom, either in human sin or when the ostrich lays her eggs in a footpath where man or beast may trample them (Job 39:13-18), are not God's responsibility but the tragic side effects of God's good gift. In a similar argument in Matthew 13, Jesus describes God's strategy of letting the weeds (sinners) grow up alongside the wheat (virtuous) until the harvest, lest uprooting the weeds destroy the wheat as well. His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane following the Passover meal demonstrated that Jesus did not want to die. The free will of humans created a situation in which he saw no options capable of advancing the reign of God other than his own death.

When I teach the gospels in my university classes, many introductory students do not see any difference between saying that God sent Jesus to suffer and die to save us, and saying that God sent Jesus to save us and because of human sin he ended up having to die to do it. But there is a significant difference. The reason for the difference is that we are called to follow Jesus. If Jesus is our model for how to live, then it is important that we understand how and why Jesus died.

The church has no stressed the effect of the Crucifixion for humanity (that the Crucifixion earns us salvation) that the consequence of the Crucifixion for us often gets misrepresented as if Jesus, and God, intended that Jesus be crucified. Christian preaching has even strongly implied that Crucufixion was chosen by God because it involved the highest degree of suffering--because the more the suffering the more the glory of the Resurrection and the greater the gift of salvation. Tragically, the message becomes: sacrificial suffering saves, and the more suffering the more salvation.

The life and ministry, the teaching and signs that Jesus did all disappear, replaced by his one interpretation of his death. While the Crucifixion is central to understanding both the person Jesus Christ and the godhead as a whole, it is only one part. It cannot be understood without both the ministry of Jesus, which provides the context in which Jesus' death occurs, and the Resurrection, which provides the decisive divine action from which vantage point revelation and salvation can be perceived.
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Title Annotation:lessons on suffering and sacrifice in crucifixion of Jesus Christ
Author:Gudorf, Christine
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Words:821
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