By Father MieczysЕ‚aw Piotrowski TChr,
Love One Another! 3/2004 → Eternal life
The final 24 hours of the earthly life of Jesus mark the most important event in the history of the world. Too many of us have grown hardened and insensitive to the gospel accounts of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
And yet these historical events touch every one of us personally, since they open up for us the road to full happiness in a love that endures for eternity. The expressive images of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ have the power to break through our dulled consciences and open our hearts to the joyous truth of salvation, by which all of mankind is enabled to be united in love with the Resurrected Lord and share in His victory over Satan, sin and death.
What Jesus accomplished for us is a mystery that surpasses all human understanding. Nevertheless, since faith always seeks to deepen our understanding, let us try, in the light of God’s revelation, to answer the following basic question: Why did Christ have to suffer, die and rise from the dead?
God created man in His own image and likeness — a thinking
being endowed with a free will and an aptitude for love. He called
man to a life of communion with Himself. Man can only become what
the Creator intended him to be and, thus, achieve perfect happiness
when he becomes a partaker in the divine nature (Peter's
Second Letter 1:4), that is, when he unites himself in love
with God. Only when man gives his full consent in total freedom
can God bestow on him the fullness of His love and unite Himself
with him and, thus, restore the works of creation.
When man yielded to temptation, he stopped believing that his happiness
depended on God alone. Instead, he believed Satan’s lie that
the path to happiness lay in rejecting God. This was the essence
of original sin. The natural consequence of man’s rejection
of God was death (Romans
5:12) and enslavement to sin (John
8:34) and the spiritual forces of evil (John's
First Letter 5:19; to
the Galatians 4:3; 5:1; to
the Colossians 2:15). Original sin deformed what was essential
in human nature, namely, “the image and likeness of God.”
Man now carried a false image of God, of himself, and of sin. Left
to his own devices, he was unable to know the Truth, confess his
fault, and entrust himself to the mercy of God. And, yet, these
were conditions that had to be met if God was to save him, join
him to Himself, and restore the works of creation. How these conditions
were satisfied should shake us all to the core.
Moved by pure, selfless love, God entered the reality of sin and
death as a real man and took upon Himself “the iniquity of
us all,” “bore our griefs,” “carried our
sorrows,” “was wounded for our transgressions”
53:4-6). This is a shocking fact: For our sake he made him to be
sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness
of God (Paul's
Second Letter to the Corinthians 5:21). The Son of God, “of
one substance with the Father,” becomes true man in order
to take upon Himself the appalling consequences of our sins and
satisfy the necessary conditions of our salvation. Having identified
Himself with our sin- and death-ridden humanity, He offers Himself
and the world to the Father in perfect obedience and love. As Scripture
states, he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so
that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the
service of God to make expiation for the sins of the people (to
the Hebrews 2:17).
The Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ came to witness to the Truth (John
18:37). Indeed, He identifies Himself with the Truth (John
14:9). He gives witness to it in the dramatic events of His passion,
death and resurrection, by living out His earthly life in sinless
human nature and drawing upon Himself the sins of all men. Jesus
could do this only because He is a divine person, the Son of God.
Hence, Christ’s appalling passion and death. His suffering reached its
culminating point during His agony on the cross, when He cried out,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew
27:43). In His human consciousness, Jesus, the Son of God, came
to know the absence of the Father. This was a terrible spiritual
experience of abandonment — an experience of the greatest
suffering caused by sin, which severs man’s relationship with
God. It was for us, on account of the sins of all people, that Jesus
experienced this sense of utter desolation and impotence. Every
sin is the fruit of disobedience of a creature toward his loving
Creator and Father, and its consequence is suffering and death.
In dying on the cross, in appalling suffering, Jesus reveals the
full extent of these consequences. At the same time, since His suffering
is the suffering of a divine person, its efficacy extends to wherever
evil’s destructive power is capable of reaching.
Jesus suffers and dies in full solidarity with sinful mankind.
In this experience of unimaginable suffering — in becoming
“obedient unto death” (to
the Philippians 2:8) — He offers Himself to the Father
on behalf of all sinners with the words, Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit (Luke
Suffering and death are the ultimate expression of the Son’s perfect obedience to the Father. And in return for the boundless obedience and self-giving of His Son, the Father responds by giving Him His own paternal gift, that is to say, the gift of new immortal life in the resurrection (Redemptor hominis, 20).
Christ’s perfect act of love and obedience at the moment of death and His Father’s response in the gift of the resurrection represent the culminating act of salvation — the forgiveness of all sins and victory over death. God made man took upon Himself the sin and death of every man so that, in the resurrection, He might win for all of us the gift of immortal life and forgiveness of sins. He responds to man’s ultimate crime with infinite love and forgiveness. Jesus’ bruised and tormented body is a visible sign of the extent to which sin causes suffering and harm. By the same token, His risen and glorified humanity is a sign of the final victory over death and the forgiveness of all sins by the great power of God’s mercy. Thus, in Christ’s death and resurrection, man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly “expressed” and, in a way, is newly created. He is newly created! (Redemptor hominis, 10).
Christ’s passion, death and resurrection have eternal value. His redemptive love extends to all people of all times. Through His Mystical Body, the Church, which dispenses the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, Jesus offers all of us a part in His victory over Satan, sin, and death.
Thus, as we watch The Passion of the Christ, let us remember that the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are the central event in the history of the created world. They offer every person the forgiveness of all sins and the joy of eternal life. May we all wish to accept this gift and profit from the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, for in these gifts, which He extends to us through His Church, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection is always present.