21 March 2007

NOT BECAUSE OF BUT EVEN WITH

Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent
Jn 5:17-30

Yesterday, Jesus broke the Sabbath by healing a man who was sick for thirty-eight years. Today, He makes the boldest claim ever: He is the Son of God.

The tension between Jesus and His perennial critics rises and rises. There is no stopping to the growing animosity of His persecutors toward Him. The death of Jesus gradually but surely appears to be an inevitable end to this protracted conflict. The scent of blood becomes stronger and stronger as the cross itself seems to be approaching Jesus more than Jesus approaching the cross.

If we were to ask Jesus if He desired the cross for Himself, what would He tell us? Did He intend to die? If He did, then, His death was not martyrdom but suicidal.

No, Jesus did not desire the cross. He did not intend to die. He did not commit suicide. On the contrary, Jesus – who, while truly divine, is human like us in all things but sin – also feared the prospect of death. In the Garden of Gethsemane, coming face-to-face with death, Jesus sweated blood and prayed, “Father, if it is Your will take this cup away from Me.” It is interesting that three of the four evangelists noted this: Mt 26:39, Mk 14:36, and Lk 22:42. However, all three evangelists also wrote that Jesus did not only pray to be spared from death. They mentioned in their separate accounts that Jesus ended His prayer this way: “…yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

Jesus was not a lunatic who jumped to His death. He was not guilty of suicide. Neither was He an accidental hero. Jesus faced the cross squarely. He faced it with trembling and fear even as He accepted it with faith and love. He desired to fulfill the mission entrusted to Him by the Father and if by doing so He gained enemies and merited death on the cross, so be it for Him. For Jesus, the will of the Father was greater than anything.

But was it the Father’s will that Jesus should die on the cross?

When we were younger, the answer to this question seemed to be yes. In the old catechism, the answer to the question “Why did Jesus became man” used to be “Jesus became man to save us from sin through His death and resurrection”. While this answer remains valid, it is no longer the first answer to the same question. Jesus became man because God loves us (Cf. Jn 3:16) and to give us fullness of life (Cf. Jn 10:10). Such therefore is the will of the Father: that Jesus gives us fullness of life. If, because of our sins, giving us fullness of life requires that Jesus gives up His life on the cross, then Jesus submits Himself to death.

The Father did not will the death of Jesus as much as He does not want the death of any of His children – saints or sinners alike. It was not as if after seeing the mangled body of His only begotten Son on the cross, the Father tells us, “Okay, fine, You are forgiven. The death of My Son paid for your sins and His blood has satisfied Me. We are friends again.” No! For if it were so, then the Father is not God but a monster that salivates over flesh or a vampire that thirst for blood.

The cross is not the cause of our reconciliation with the Father. It is His love that reconciles us with Him. He loves us not because of the cross. Rather, He loves us even with the cross.

When Jesus broke the Sabbath and claimed Himself to be the Son of God, He was giving us fullness of life. The Sabbath, no matter how holy, should not enslave us. The Son of God Himself, who is Jesus, is our life.

The scribes, the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the elders of the people during the time of Jesus refused to accept the ways and claims of Jesus. They wanted to cling to the old and the familiar. They never wanted to be surprised by the unpredictable movements and unexpected self-revelation of God through Jesus. And because they could not accept Jesus, they nailed Him on a cross. But the cross did not make the Father stop loving us just as it was not the reason for Him to love us. Instead, God loves us not because of but even with the cross.

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