Jesus and the Cross

Jesus and the Cross

My post WHY THE CROSS? is my most read post with relatively the least number of comments,  making me somewhat uneasy on my message  which is a bit controversial  – starting off as it does with a heretical questioning of the meaning of the statement “Jesus died to save us from our sins.” and my reflections on what I think it means. 

I’ve had concerns whether I was propounding a heretical view which few wished to comment on,  or maybe reader just moved on leaving me to my idiosyncratic beliefs without engaging in dialogue on this one. 🤔

I was thus happy to read Richard Rohr’s reflection on “Jesus and the Cross – Substitutionary Atonement”  which threw some light on my seemingly heretical thinking.  Rohr, a reputed Jesuit priest lucidly answers the questions I had :

For most of church history, no single consensus prevailed on what Christians mean when we say, “Jesus died for our sins.” But in recent centuries, one theory did become mainstream. It is often referred to as the “penal substitutionary atonement theory,” especially once it was further developed during the Reformation. [1] Substitutionary atonement is the theory that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of humans, thus satisfying the “demands of justice” so that God could forgive our sins.

and takes up the subject with

both excitement and trepidation because I know that substitutionary atonement is central to many Christians’ faith. But the questions of why Jesus died and what is the meaning and message of his death have dominated the Christian narrative, often much more than his life and teaching. As some have said, if this theory is true, all we needed were the last three days or even three hours of Jesus’ life. In my opinion, this interpretation has kept us from a deep and truly transformative understanding of both Jesus and Christ.

Read Richard Rohr’s  full reflection on Jesus and the Cross, the theology of substitutionary atonement (direct link) or post copied below.   He speaks with authority of knowledge and wisdom and his reflections on his website Center for Action and Contemplation – are wonderful spiritual insights.

I am sure you will find plenty to reflect on as we enter into this holiest of weeks.

May you be blessed with the peace and love of Christ.

Image:  Various sources on the internet.  No clear copyright owner. No intention to violate copyright laws.

Jesus and the Cross

Substitutionary Atonement
Sunday, February 3, 2019

For most of church history, no single consensus prevailed on what Christians mean when we say, “Jesus died for our sins.” But in recent centuries, one theory did become mainstream. It is often referred to as the “penal substitutionary atonement theory,” especially once it was further developed during the Reformation. [1] Substitutionary atonement is the theory that Christ, by his own sacrificial choice, was punished in the place of humans, thus satisfying the “demands of justice” so that God could forgive our sins.

This theory of atonement ultimately relies on another commonly accepted notion—the “original sin” of Adam and Eve, which, we were told, taints all human beings. But much like original sin (a concept not found in the Bible but developed by Augustine in the fifth century), most Christians have never been told how recent and regional this explanation is or that it relies upon a retributive notion of justice. Nor are they told that it was honest enough to call itself a “theory,” even though some groups take it as long-standing dogma.

Unfortunately, this theory has held captive our vision of Jesus, making our view very limited and punitive. The commonly accepted atonement theory led to some serious misunderstandings of Jesus’ role and Christ’s eternal purpose, reaffirmed our narrow notion of retributive justice, and legitimated a notion of “good and necessary violence.” It implied that God the Father was petty, offended in the way that humans are, and unfree to love and forgive of God’s own volition. This is a very untrustworthy image of God which undercuts everything else.

I take up this subject with both excitement and trepidation because I know that substitutionary atonement is central to many Christians’ faith. But the questions of why Jesus died and what is the meaning and message of his death have dominated the Christian narrative, often much more than his life and teaching. As some have said, if this theory is true, all we needed were the last three days or even three hours of Jesus’ life. In my opinion, this interpretation has kept us from a deep and truly transformative understanding of both Jesus and Christ.

Salvation became a one-time transactional affair between Jesus and his Father, instead of an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul and for all of history. I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is a revelation of the infinite and participatory love of God, not some bloody payment required by God’s offended justice to rectify the problem of sin. Such a story line is way too small and problem-oriented.

References:
[1] This week I will use the phrase “substitutionary atonement” to indicate the most current version of the theory. Throughout Christian history, there have been multiple theories of substitutionary atonement. One of the earliest, the ransom theory, originated with Origen and the early church. Closely related to this was the Christus Victor theory. The ransom view of atonement was the dominant theory until the publication of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) at the end of the 11th century. Anselm’s satisfaction theory of atonement then became dominant until the Reformed tradition introduced penal substitution in the 16th century. This new view of substitutionary atonement emphasized punishment over satisfaction (Jesus’ crucifixion as a substitute for human sin) and paralleled criminal law. Today, the phrase “substitutionary atonement” is often (correctly or incorrectly) used to refer to the penal theory of atonement. This week’s meditations touch the surface of 2,000 years of complex theological process.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 139-141.

Letting God work on us

Prayer has far more to do with what God wants to do in us than with our trying to “reach” or “realize,” still less “entertain,” God in prayer.

This truth eliminates anxiety and concern as to the success or non-success of our prayer, for we can be quite certain that, if we want to pray and give the time to prayer, God is always successful and that is what matters.

What we think of as our search for God is, in reality, a response to the divine Lover drawing us to himself.  There is never a moment when divine Love is not at work.

This work is nothing other than a giving of the divine Self in love.

The logical consequence for us must surely be that our part is to

let ourselves be loved,
—let ourselves be given to,
let ourselves be worked upon by this great God
and made capable of total union with Him. “

This reflection extracted from Ruth Burrows Essence of Prayer  so closely resembles my Advent wish ‘Receive His Love’  from a different perspective that I thought I would share it as my Christmas post.

My wish for my Christian brothers and people of all faiths is that we will let God – whoever you conceive Him to be – to work on us this Christmas so there is peace on earth,  good will and love amongst men.

See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/an-ignatian-prayer-adventure/week-1/#sthash.4vWR0i0k.dpuf

Love is our Salvation

One month more for Christmas – the day that Love came down.

Fleeting thoughts … a thread floating in my mind waiting to be drawn, pulled together, stitched …

I’m Ok you’re Ok …  is not OK.  It forces you, said Anthony Mello, to be OK before others accept you as OK;.  Better rather , he suggested,  “I’m an Ass …you’re  an Ass!”

Beethoven suffered because people appreciated his music but not his person – incredibly sad.

Success tells me that my work is fine while LOVE tells me that I am fine,  

Love me for a reason and let the reason be love …

Wonderful creative redemptive love that came to save me from myself

Grace freely given … without measure, without judgement, without demands

For God so loved the world that he gave his Beloved Son that whoever believed in Him might be saved. (John 3.16)

Saved from this world of conditional love

To the world of PERFECT LOVE

For only when we receive His love, can we be truly ONE with Him.

In LOVE are we saved … perfected.

RECEIVE HIS LOVE THIS CHRISTMAS

It is our SALVATION.

Image Credit : https://glenelmadventblog.files.wordpress.com

WHY THE CROSS?

"The Son of Man came ... to give his life as a ransom for many."  Mark 10:45.

“The Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

With all thy getting, get an understanding  (Proverbs 4:7)

 On his death bed, Pope John XXIII (whose vision convened Vatican II) had stated:

“It’s not the Gospel that has changed, it is just that we can understand it better.” 

I find this statement so comforting when I grapple with questions like the meaning and purpose of the Cross – for I am a Doubting Thomas by nature.   I could not accept a+ b = c in Algebra without questioning why a or b etc. .. so it is no surprise I had difficulty accepting the statement of faith that Jesus died to save us from our sins: that he gave his life as a ransom for many that so many Christians accept without question.

Sure, I accepted it as a child.  But when the age of  so called reason hit me, what was black and white became grey, cloudy, and foggy. I realized I could not give a proper explanation if a non-Christian asked me how Christ’s death on the cross saved us from our sins  – and why God wanted such a sacrifice from his Son. I found myself fumbling to explain what I did not understand.

  1. He gave himself as the perfect sacrifice as a ransom for many. 
 I wondered if was just and fair.  Did God really want this sacrifice ?
  1. We are “saved” by his death. 
How exactly can his death ‘save’ us?  I sincerely wanted explanations. Could we not have been “saved” another way?  
  1. What is my sin that deserved such a death?
I don’t  think I commit any big sins that warrant Jesus dying on the cross for me. Maybe that alone makes me a sinner! 

Like the Jews, I too had  questions on the scandal of the cross, (1 Cor. 1.18-21) so I dug deep for answers.

  • I learned about the Jewish/Old Covenant tradition of sacrificial atonement, the unblemished lamb and the scapegoat tradition linked with the Passover.
  • I understood much more the beautiful connection to the Paschal mystery of the New Covenant.
  • I realised that the Hebrew people, though saved from death by the cross marked in blood on the lintel of the  doorpost (Exodus 12.7),  still had to journey to the Promised Land.
  • I accept that we too,  even though marked by the blood of the Cross of Jesus, still have to undertake our own Exodus from this life to the next.
  • I am also now closer to understanding that it was not only by Christ’s death on the Cross that we have been saved but by his whole life and works. His passion and death was a culmination of his life and mission.

I believe we could have been saved even without a death on the Cross if we had accepted Him and His message.  But fickle human beings that we are, we may not have accepted his message of ETERNAL LIFE or more importantly, believed in the resurrection from the dead, unless we witnessed it for ourselves.  So his very visible death was for those like me  -like Thomas -who loudly, arrogantly  proclaim that we have to ‘see’ to believe.

The consolation is that He my creator, knows our weaknesses and he gently invites us to probe deeper into Him,  to put our distrusting fingers in his wounds as he responded  to Thomas  … “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe !! ” 

"You have believed because you have seen.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."  John 20:29

“You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:29

And I also believe that His suffering and ignominious death  underscored His fundamental message – the paradox of  ‘death for life’:

 “Most assuredly I say to you … unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

The Cross underscores the message of giving up to your life to find new life with the Father  “… for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul?” (Mark..36)   and is thus the ultimate and perfect symbol of :

  • Standing up for truth and justice –  for GOD –  even at cost of your life.
  • Moving away from the things that separate us from goodness and moving towards the source of all goodness
  • Restoring lives created in the image and likeness of God,
  • Exchanging a shallow living for eternal abundant life – DIVINE EXCHANGE .

His detractors thought they could quell his message by his death ….  yet even his death, Jesus’ message was the paradox of LIFE – for he lives amongst us still:

“Saul Saul .. why do you persecute ME”  Acts 9:4

No room for doubt here. He lives amongst his people. 

——————————-

So I found some answers to my question … “Why the Cross?   I can’t say that I have found all the answers, but I have found enough to embrace  – to wrap my arms around, to cling to that precious Cross.

What then of the answer taught in catechism that “he died to save us from our sins” ?

I would respond it is a doctrinal answer given – the wondrous paschal mystery explained in a brief dogma,  until you can find the answer and the meaning of the Cross for yourself.

And when you do, chances are you too will give the same answer  …  for there are few words that can capture the glorious essence of the saving power of the Cross.  

I would like to invite you to share your experience, love and hope in the Cross with other believers to strengthen and help fellow travellers.

Reflections on the Cross of Christ from the early church fathers
What Happened on the Cross, by John Damascene
A Few Drops of Blood Renew the Whole World, by Gregory Nazianzen
What We Behold on the Cross, by Augustine
Contemplating the Lord’s Passion by Leo the Great
The Lamb that was Slain by Melito of Sardis
The Power of the Blood of Christ by John Chrysostom
By One Death and Resurrection the World Was Saved by Basil
The Life-giving Cross of Christ by Theodore the Studite
Let us too glory in the Cross by Augustine
The Cross of Christ by Leo the Great
The Body of Christ Gives Life to Those Who Receive It, by Cyril of Alexandria
The Death of Death by Augustine

Photo credit:  The Cross – divinemercychurch.com.

Doubting Thomas – numerous sites; source unknown.

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