What Did Jesus Die For?

The two key principles and the most important tenets of Christianity are that:

1.         Jesus died for our sins

2.         Jesus was God incarnate

I have heard many Christians and priests say that “If Jesus was not raised from the dead and is not the son of God than our religion is a farce.”  I think both premises are faulty and show that most people do not really understand what Jesus died for.  I would like to dispute the first premise that Jesus died for our sins.  Many people have already challenged the second premise. 

Jesus did not die for my sins.  As much as it might hurt your feelings to know this, I seriously doubt that he died for your sins either.  Jesus was born some 2020 years ago.  That is at least 1900 years before either you or I were born.  Jesus did not know either of us.  He did not know me and frankly I can’t really think of any sins that I have committed that would be worth dying for.  However, I can’t speak for you.  But even assuming that you are a serial killer, Jesus would not have had any way to know about your aberrant lifestyle. 

So, what did Jesus die for?

Maybe Jesus died for his naivete.  Did Jesus really think the Scribes and Pharisees and Romans were going to lay down their hatred for each other and commit to a new religion that broke with sacred traditions?  Religious beliefs and protocols that they had been practicing for hundreds of years.  This was an egregious overreach on the part of Jesus, if we assume that he was naive enough to think that he had a chance of changing them.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Maybe Jesus died because he had a martyr complex.  Did Jesus perhaps believe that his only path to the acceptance of his new ideas was by sacrificing himself?  Did Jesus think that once they killed him, his murderers would all suddenly feel compassion and for his precepts?  If he did, then he seriously underestimated the difficulty that people have in accepting new ideas. 

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Maybe Jesus died because he miscalculated his popularity.  Perhaps Jesus was taken in by the cheering crowds when he entered Jerusalem that Passover weekend.  He may have assumed that they would stage some kind of an uprising or protest to protect their new Messiah.  Instead they chose to save Barabbas and not Jesus.

“And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”

Maybe Jesus died because he trusted his apostles too much.  Much has been made of the perfidy of Judas who sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver.  Much has also been made of the cowardice of his 12 apostles who spent the time that Jesus was being interrogated and executed in hiding lest they be crucified with him.  It would be accurate to say that they were not particularly good at having Jesus’s back. 

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”

So, what did Jesus die for?

Jesus did not die for fame.  The story of his dealing with Satan on the mountain clearly shows that Jesus could not be tempted by fame.

Jesus did not die for glory.  He had no desire to be the Messiah that the Jewish people wanted. He said many times that his kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus did not die for wealth.  Jesus led a life of frugality and poverty.  He believed in giving more to others than he received in return.  Jesus said that if someone sues you and gets your shirt, you should also give them your coat.

Jesus did not die for power.  Jesus believed in giving to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and he never attempted any coups of the power structure that existed among the Jews.  Jesus made it clear that the first should be last and that a leader must be a follower. 

So, what did Jesus die for?

If we accept that Jesus was no fool, there must have been something especially important that Jesus knew was worth dying for.  I believe that there was, and Jesus clearly knew what it was.  By his death, Jesus could show the world the power that was in this idea.  Perhaps the only idea that Jesus would have been willing to die for.  By dying for this idea, he made more changes in the world than could have been brought about by war, famine, disease, or political intrigue.  The measure of his influence can be appreciated in the following verses:

One Solitary Life by James Allan Francis (1926)

He was born in an obscure village, The child of a peasant woman.  He grew up in still another  village where he worked until he was thirty. Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.  He never held an office.  He never had a family or owned a home.  He didn’t go to college.  He never traveled more than 200 miles from the place he was born.

He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.  He had no credentials but himself; he was only thirty-three when public opinion turned against him.

His friends ran away.  He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.  He was nailed to the cross between two thieves.  While he was dying his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth.

When he was dead he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.  Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he is the central figure of the human race,the leader of mankind’s progress.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on earth as much as that One Solitary Life.

So, what did Jesus die for?

Jesus died for the most elemental force in the universe.  Jesus died for love.  Not a love for things, money, or material goods which our societies are obsessed with today.  Had Jesus loved these things, he would never have died.  He would have been hailed as a hero and honored in the halls and palaces where the rich and famous lived. 

Jesus died because he preached love for humanity.  When Jesus was born, there was no sin in the world for loving things too much.  The same is true today, but Jesus preached that love for things and money was evil and sinful when life revolved around the acquisition of these things.  It was not money itself that was evil but the means that people used to acquire money and fame and power.  Jesus preached that it is not wealth which is sinful but the worship of wealth.  This is a distinction that is ignored and not well understood by many in all religions today.

People could live with a Messiah who preached love for things.  The Prosperity Gospel so popular among televangelists and some Christians preaches that money and wealth are God’s blessings for Christians who do good works.  Even mainstream Christians do not see any evil in piling up hoards of money while the income inequality in our country grows.  Money is viewed as a blessing for hard work and faith in Jesus. 

But Jesus taught that money was the root of all evil.  The sin was in loving money and wealth more than the human beings in your culture.  It was a sin to have so much when others had so little.  It was a sin not to help the poor and the sick and the needy.  But just like now, the people blame the poor for being poor.  “If they are poor, it is their own fault.”  The poor are accused of being lazy or stupid.  The sick are blamed for being sick.  If they get the Covid 19 virus, it is their own fault.

Jesus died because he condemned the mindless and greedy acquisition of money and material goods.  Jesus would have been appalled to hear people say that “I love my car.”  Or “I love my new shoes.”  For Jesus, love was for people not for things.  The very use and associations of the word love today speaks to the values that people hold in our society.  There is more love of things today than there is love for people.

Jesus gave a new commandment to the world when he told his disciples:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jesus was a radical and radicals never fare well.  Nothing could be more radical in Jesus’s time or our time than to preach that you should:

  • Love the poor
  • Love the sick
  • Love the needy
  • Love the oppressed
  • Love the dispossessed
  • Love those different from you culturally
  • Love all people including people of a different skin color
  • Love the immigrants without a home
  • Love the downtrodden
  • Love the Ex-Felon
  • Love people who have different sexual orientations

2000 years have passed and if Jesus were alive today, he would be tried and found guilty of heresy and executed.   His crime would be “Preaching Love.”

Jesus died because he exhorted others to love all people.

P.S.

I wrote the above blog with thoughts of Father Sthokal in my mind. A man who loved all people. Father Sthokal passed away on August 11, 2020. I attended many retreats when Father Sthokal was Retreat Director at Demontreville. He was 98 years old and a Jesuit for 78 years. He received licentiate degrees in philosophy and theology and a master’s degree in English from St. Louis University. He talked like a common man but had the mind of a genius and the heart of a truly compassionate individual.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jennygirl1278
    Aug 18, 2020 @ 23:36:32

    Beautifully written. I am very sorry for your loss. We just spoke of him and you told me many delightful stories which provided an insight to the heart of this man. You will always have the memories of when he
    was Retreat Director and you grew in his knowledge.
    I have always enjoyed reading, “One Solitary Life”, and it never fails to bring me to tears. Great blog!!

    Reply

  2. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    Aug 20, 2020 @ 09:21:39

    Thanks Jeanine, Father Sthokal was one of a kind. It is too bad that all Catholic priests did not have his integrity and commitment to their vows.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: