Jesus taught his friends, saying that he must ‘undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed, and ultimately, that he would rise again.’ Not surprisingly, they didn’t want to hear it. Peter, took him aside and tried to convince him not to go.
It reminds me of the heroic football coach and the not heroic deputy in the Florida school shooting last week. The football coach, Aaron Feis ran in front of the students, trying to protect them, and he was shot, and died. The deputy, who was outside, heard the shooting and for whatever reason, stayed outside. I picture what would have happened if they each had a spouse, mother, or good friend like Peter, who loved them, standing at their side. “Don’t go. Think of your family. It won’t do any good, kids will get killed anyway. Don’t go, stay.” One stayed, and one went. The one who went was killed, and the one who stayed was safe.
Jesus was true to his mission. He knew that he needed to stand against oppression, domination, and injustice, especially institutions or systems of oppression, domination, and injustice, wherever he found them. Peter tried to talk him out of it, because he knew it would get him killed, and Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan, for you are setting your mind on human things not divine things. “In other words, you are stressing about the small picture, but you aren’t looking at the big picture. Big picture as in, “What am I here for?” What is my purpose? What is the core meaning of my life?” Is it to live the core of love, 100%, no matter what? Or does it depend upon the circumstances?
This brings me to the question, “Did Jesus have to die?” Good question. We were taught that Jesus died for our sins, and that would Sound like he had to die, but maybe not. Maybe, Jesus had to live his purpose of showing Gods love in the world 100%, regardless of the consequences, and because of that, he was killed. Maybe, knowing the danger, he decided, like the football coach, in a dangerous situation, to run towards love anyway.
I don’t think Jesus was born to die. I think Jesus was born to show everyone how much God loves them, with no exceptions. The idea of Jesus dying for our sins wasn’t presented until 1097, by St. Anselm, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury. He thought of our relationship with God like a math relationship. If A = B, and B = C, then A = C. He put it in the framework of the legal system. 1. Sin is like a crime. 2. A crime must be punished for justice to result. 3. We have sinned against God. 4. We must all be punished. 5. Jesus took on the punishment meant for all of us, so that we can be with God after we die.
That makes perfect sense if God’s life is organized by the principles of the 11th century legal system. But it wasn’t what Jesus, or the Gospel writers believed.
In the time that the Gospels were written, people believed that demonic, or evil spirits lived in people and in organizations, like Rome, or the religious powers that oppressed people. That’s why Jesus was always healing people with a demon, or a demon came out of a person. He stood against anything: demon, sickness, injury, or system of oppression that was experienced as evil. He was constantly challenging Roman and religious authorities that kept people down. The Roman authorities saw him as a threat, and killed him. Crucifixion was Rome’s standard punishment for sedition: plotting against the government.
The early Christians saw Easter as God’s great No for all time to the unjust, oppressive power, and Yes to all Jesus stood for, and who he was. Although he died, he defeated evil because he never gave in, and when he rose again, they saw that he even defeated death.
People didn’t make sense of Jesus’ death until afterwards, looking back on it. One thing they realized, is that it showed us something else. It symbolized the whole process of inner transformation that Jesus taught his disciples. He said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it multiplies. Even in today’s reading, Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.” Although many early Christians were actually killed, they also saw this as symbolic of the transformation of the inner person that Jesus was talking about when he said, “I am the Way, the truth, and the life.” The inner process of death to what is limiting and embracing the fullness of life that Jesus offers another meaning that they saw in the actual death and rising of Jesus.
Another very common understanding Jesus’ death was related to the temple and sacrifice.
According to Jewish law, there were some sins that could only be forgiven after the person made a sacrifice. Since the sacrifice could only be made in the temple, the temple had a monopoly on forgiving sin. That made Religion in control of your relationship with God.
The early Christians saw that Jesus did away with that whole system. Religion didn’t control your relationship with God anymore. That’s why Matthew said that the moment Jesus died, the curtain that separated people from the Holy of Holies in the temple (the place where God lived) was ripped all the way down. Jesus destroyed everything that separated us from God. There are no more hoops to jump through, or things we must do to earn the right to be united with God. It is a given. Jesus made it a given. They started saying, “Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins,” instead of the Temple being the sacrifice for our sins. “Jesus died, and now our sins are forgiven. We don’t need the temple anymore. It didn’t mean he died because of our sins, it meant now we have Jesus’ sacrifice, instead of the temple sacrifice, and that does away with the entire system of sacrifice and punishment forever.
Wouldn’t that have given Christianity a better perspective if we believed that Jesus’ death abolished religious ideas of punishment from God, and needing to do certain things to earn God’s approval? I challenge us to think about that this Lent, because it might just be true.