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.

3559– Saturday, August 3, 2019 – Jesus:  An Untold Story

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My name is Jesus.  The story I am about to tell you is true.  It happened to me one sunny day in June.  I had risen early that morning and my apostles were either out with their fishing or others were still in their beds.  I had been notified the day before that a friend of my grandmother’s was ill and most likely dying.  I decided to visit her and see if there was anything that I could do to ease her suffering.  She was an elderly woman and I doubted whether I could help her very much, but I thought I would at least try.  Her name was Ketziah.  She was named after one of Job’s daughters who was a distant relative.  I had not seen her since I was a little boy.  I remember her as a fun loving and very happy woman.

My journey started out in Nazareth.  Ketziah lived in Cana, a journey of about 10 km.  Walking, slowly, I thought it would take me about 2 hours to arrive there.   I left early to avoid the daytime heat which in June can reach 95 degrees or more.  The road to Cana passes through flat agricultural land and pasture lands.  Dotted with a few olive groves and many flocks of sheep, I was enjoying a quiet reprieve from the usual chatter with my apostles and particularly the throngs that often gathered around me when I preached.

I started to pass through a small rocky outcrop when suddenly a rough bearded man jumped out from behind a large boulder.  “Stop” he yelled.  I greeted him with the traditional greeting of “Shalom.” I asked him what he wanted and how I could be of any help to him.  He replied, “Your money or your life.”  I answered, “I am very sorry stranger, but I have very little money to give you.  I have less than a quarter shekel and I need that to buy lotion for a dying woman.”

“I don’t care about the dead, only the living.  And since I am living, I want whatever money you have, or you will surely forfeit your life today.  If you die, it will be senseless, since I will get your money anyway.”

barabbas

I stared at the stranger and suddenly I could see the future.  Our lives were intertwined in ways that I would never have imagined.  I spoke “Stranger, I have the gift of seeing the future.  Some people say that I am a prophet and that when I call upon my Father, he can make things happen.”  I see that you and I will have business together in the future.”

“I do not care about the future or the past, I only care about today.  And today, you are here with some money and I am here with some hunger for food.  I am beginning to tire of this conversation.  You had best decide shortly which is more valuable to you, your money or your life.”

“Stranger, my life is forfeit anyway, for so it has been prophesized.  But your life is hanging in the balance.  If you kill me today.  You will surely lead a short life.  If you let me pass, you will live to an old age, albeit your life will never be a happy one.”

“Friend, you make me laugh.  Are you saying that if I kill you, you will somehow find a way to kill me?”

“No, I am saying that our fortunes are intertwined, and that I will someday give up my life for yours.  If you kill me today, it will never happen, and you will die sooner than you would like.  Your death will be very unpleasant.”

The bandit thought about this situation for several minutes.  What had at first appeared to be a rather risk-less endeavor had now turned into a situation with conceivably frightful consequences.  If this man could really see the future, his own death might depend on what he did at this present moment.  Were the few coins this goy had really worth the chance that killing him might bring his own death?

“I have thought about your words friend and I have decided it is too nice a day to kill you.  I will let you be on your way.  Just remember to be grateful to me for my kindness and offer whatever prayers you can for my long and healthy life.”

“Stranger, I assure you that today, you have saved your own life as well as mine.  We part now but we will meet again.   Please tell me your name before we go our own ways.”

Friend, everyone knows my name.  I am famous far and wide.  I am the spawn of the devil and the bane of rich people throughout the land.  I have taken more shekels from taxpayers and Pharisees and hypocrites than I can count.”

“I am the son of the father.  My name is Barabbas.”

 

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