Jesus died for our sins?
Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. On this day, Passion Sunday, we reflect on Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, juxtaposed against the heightened tension around his teachings, his eventual trial and death by crucifixion. Having been raised Catholic, this was the time of year when we were vigorously reminded that, “Jesus died for our sins,” as we stood with heads bowed, striking our breasts in self-flagellation while chanting mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Jesus was portrayed as the sacrificial lamb that was sent here to be slaughtered in reparation for our sins. While I have found personal comfort in praying with Jesus through his trial, crucifixion and death (allowing myself to experience the reality of Jesus’ suffering, thereby finding in him a companion in my humanness) I cannot reconcile the God of love that I have come to know with a god who would send his own son to die.
Was it really necessary?
While I acknowledge that the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and eventual ascension ushered in a dramatic shift in the spiritual evolution of our planet, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if humanity hadn’t gotten in the way of the amazing message Jesus came to reveal. It seems to me that Jesus could have been raised from the dead and ascended into heaven without the violence of the crucifixion. Jesus crucifixion seems wrong, untimely and unnecessary. While God revealed a higher good in Jesus’ untimely death, I have a hard time believing it was really part of God’s plan. I often wonder if God thought, “Darn it, they missed the point again! I send them prophet after prophet after prophet to help them understand how much they are loved and instead of receiving my love, they turn against my prophets in fear! When will they learn?” As a result of these quandaries, I have a really hard time upholding the idea that Jesus died for our sins – at least not in the way it was presented to me growing up. Instead, I have come to approach Jesus’ cruel death by crucifixion from another perspective.
The turning point for me was diligent prayer and meditation on John’s gospel, and at least a million viewings or listenings of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar:
In Jesus Christ Superstar, in the scene of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we hear the following exchange:
Pilate: Then you are a king?
Jesus: It’s you that say I am. I look for truth and find that I get damned.
Pilate: But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?
In John’s gospel, Jesus reveals the truth that he proclaims will set us free (John 8: 32) – the truth that he came to know within himself and the truth he lived by and tried to share with others. Jesus came to know the truth of his Oneness with God in love (John 17: 17-23). Through this Oneness, Jesus found the remedy to the fears that are the cause of our sinful behaviors and the path toward our spiritual freedom. This is the “I Am” truth that Jesus discovered. This was the truth he tried to help others understand. Knowing, cultivating and embracing this truth is what saves us from the fears that are the ultimate cause of our sins. So, yes, we can say that Jesus died for our sins, but not as a consequence of our sins, but for the sake of the truth that will heal us from our sin.
The Truth that kills
This truth that Jesus believed, the truth in his Oneness with God, is a dangerous truth. It is because of this truth that Jesus was killed because it is a truth that seriously threatened the religious and political authorities of his time. If people find the God within and find peace in their Oneness with God and are no longer controlled by their fears, how will the outside perceived political and religious authorities be able to control and manipulate them? If people have found their Oneness with God, then what need do they have for an institution to intervene with a fickle god on their behalf? If we are truly One with God in love, then what need do we have of the sacrifices and observances that have been put in place to appease an angry God or earn our way back into God’s good graces? Jesus came to know and taught of a God that loves without condition – who loves us without merit and whose love does not have to be earned, neither can it be denied. And to the religious and political authorities, a people who believed in their inherent goodness, who knew they were loved beyond measure and who could reason, discern and exercise truth for themselves, was a dangerous lot. It was ultimately his insistence in this truth that got Jesus killed, the truth that frees us from our sin. As such, I prefer not to say that Jesus died for our sins. Instead, I prefer to acknowledge that Jesus died for the truth.
How would your life change if you believed that you were One with God in love?
How would your life be altered if you believed in your inherent goodness and that you are not only loved without condition, but that you are love itself?
How might your Holy Week observance change if you saw Jesus’ death as a consequence of standing in the truth of love instead of in reparation for sin?