1. I would like to discuss Biblical Redemption.
2. We may have been taught that Jesus substituted for us in order to satisfy the angry God the Father. Our sin has hurt the Father and he wants justice for himself. He wants “reimbursement”. No matter how hard we try, our “payment” is not enough. So how do we reconcile with the angry God if we cannot “pay”? The blood of the Son, Jesus, is special. To see that blood shed on the cross can satisfy God the Father. So the Father establishes a plan; Jesus is to substitute for us. We deserve to go up the cross; but Jesus substitutes for us. The Incarnation of Jesus is designed for our redemption. Jesus has come to suffer and die for us; he has come for the cross. The Father even allows the roles of Pilate and Herod to murder Jesus; they are part of the plan. Seeing the death of Jesus, seeing the blood shed by the Son, the Father is satisfied. The death of Jesus is an initiative of God.
3. This is such a dramatic presentation of our salvation, and I am not making it up. It is there in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is, however, so criticized. It gives a picture of a revengeful God who wants our suffering for his own satisfaction. It contradicts the image of a loving Father. How cruel that the Father takes joy in sending his own Son to death. How cruel that the Father takes the initiative to have his own Son murdered.
4. It has an influence on our Christian living. Our suffering is what pleases God! So we look for suffering. Then too, if an event makes us suffer, we can attribute it to God and say, “It is God’s will”. Maybe God sends suffering to test our faith or to make us stronger in faith. So Christian will lead a life glad to embrace suffering with the idea that it is what God wants from us. Karl Marx heavily criticized religion—and surely he had Christianity in mind—when he said that religion is “opium of the masses”. Injustice and political oppression can be “God’s will”; and this benefits the oppressive elites.
5. Let us try another perspective, the Biblical perspective.
6. In the Jewish tradition, as recorded in the Old Testament, a member of the family called the go’el is designated to make sure that any relative be redeemed in case that relative gets into trouble. If, for example, someone in the family falls into debt, the go’el comes to the rescue. At times family property is lost and falls into the hands of someone else. The go’el will exert efforts to recuperate the property for the family. The go’el is the “redeemer” of the family. The goal is to ensure that family unity is always maintained; that nobody from the family is lost.
7. Jesus is the go’el of all humanity. He came not to die on the cross but to tell us about the Love of God the Father. We are lost in the hands of sin, in the power of sin, and a go’el comes to recuperate us. He preaches the Kingdom and with acts and solidarity with the sinners and publicans he tells us about how God is really interested in our happiness and life. God holds no grudges against us and wants us in communion with him. We are invited to participate in this task of communion.
8. This message of God’s love—the Kingdom—is rejected. Hence Jesus is sent to the cross. People killed Jesus. People and not the Father killed Jesus! (Historically Jesus got into trouble with the Temple and the Law; hence authorities organized to have him killed.) The task of Jesus was obedience to the Father. His mission was to obey the Father, not to die on the cross. The price that our go’el pays is his life, his blood. No, he is not reimbursing anyone. He is obedient to the Father even if it costs him his blood. He is “ransom for the multitude”; that is, he is willing to die for us. Nothing, not even the cross, will stop Jesus from taking the Kingdom seriously. He clings on to the Father with confidence. St. Therese of Lisieux has expressed it well when she wrote: “You must navigate the tempestuous sea of the world like a child knowing that his father loves him too much to forsake him in the hour of peril”.
9. Jesus showed an intense confidence in the Father for he knew he was God of the living and not of the dead. Hence, even in front of the threat of the cross Jesus did not drop his mission. His “yes” to the Father was unconditional and marked by confidence. (Did Jesus know he will resurrect? Did he know he was “divine”? Well, let’s leave that for another discussion in Christology.) For the moment let us recognize the attitude of confidence in Jesus, an attitude that has given him the guts to face the cross.
10. We know the story. The Resurrection comes next. The Father raises the Son from death. Even the Son has needed salvation—not from sin but from death.
11. Hence the cross, for us, is an empty cross. Our destiny is not to hang on the cross for all time but to rise from death. Jesus has shown victory over death and he tells us to “be of good cheer”. Our life is that of obedience to God and the cross symbolizes that obedience. Jesus has shown the path.
12. Note then that Christian living is not about looking for suffering to appease God. Christian living is living with love, truth, justice, confidence in God; it is obedience to God. The Christian does not go around looking for pain and suffering. The Christian goes around “doing good things”, as best as possible. Suffering is consequence of “doing good things” because…well, resistance comes from all sides. Love is confronted with hatred and suspicion. Justice is confronted with injustice, corruption, violence. Truth is confronted with lie and duplicity. The Christian, participating in the Kingdom, does not retreat from love, justice and truth even in front of the threat of the cross. Hence we understand what Jesus means by, “pick up your cross”. It is ridiculous to think of it to mean “go have a hard time for that pleases God”.
13. The Resurrection proclaims the response of God. When St. Paul says that we should have faith in the power of the Resurrection he means precisely that we live in confidence knowing that “bad things” do not have to hostage us, death is not our destiny. Have faith that in the heart of “life-unto-death” is the promise of the Resurrection. Be vigilant in obedience, knowing that the Resurrection is promised to us. Jesus has shown the path. The Resurrection of Jesus proclaims that the way of Jesus leads to life eternal.
14. The revelation of God in Jesus, crucified and risen, tells us about who we really are: image of God. The Word became flesh not to die on the cross but to reveal who we really are. The Greek Patristic writers have seen insight into this. The Incarnation is designed to bring us to God—to “divinize” us. The Word became flesh so that the flesh will be in communion with the Word. It is not about God trying to “reimburse” his lost and hurt pride. It is about God continuing his program of bringing us in communion with him. The Franciscan, Duns Scotus, during the medieval times, will say that even if Adam did not sin, the Incarnation will still take place so as to “divinize” us. The Incarnation is not just about redemption.
15. I sometimes suspect that my own Christian upbringing contributed to my current neurosis. God is someone to fear and someone to appease. Prayer is a ritual that is meant to appease God. When “bad things” happen to me, God is lurking somewhere watching my next moves. Job, in the Old Testament, has mentioned this. He says that God is always watching him; like his window always opens to the window of my room. Of course with all the sophistication of classroom and library work, I ought to have overcome the neurosis. But at times I catch myself with the same fears that my catechism days implanted in me many many years ago.
16. Hopefully a Biblical approach on redemption can help. I’d like to say “help relieve us from our neurosis” but that might provoke some persons. So I’ll just leave it as that.