The Response of Love: Why Christ so died

Patrick Burke, O.Carm. Carmelite Family: Number 13, Spring 2002.

It is difficult for us as humans to understand the suffering that Christ had to bear during his passion and dying on the Cross, particularly in the context of an obedience to the Father. In his human nature, Jesus is like anyone else in all things ‘except sin’ (Hebrew 4:15). He is in himself the most perfect of all our humanity. His ordeal of the passion was unworthy of him, of his person, dignity, wisdom and goodness. During his mortal life, he bore our infirmities, our labours, our pains and our tears. He wept as anyone else would, touched by the sadness and love of friends. The Scripture says that he was moved by compassion at things or people he saw. Indeed his human nature being more perfect, his natural response or sensibility was also more delicate, more intense. It is all that is to be expected, since in his humanity he is the reflection of his Father’s infinite being, ‘the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature’ (Hebrew 1:13).
Yet Jesus suffered and died ‘for us.’ Can we understand why the Father demanded of the Son the debt due to Him in justice because of our sin? The Father willed that Jesus would be bruised for our wickedness. Jesus, our brother, saw the sickness that consumes our world, the evil that brings all class of pain, agony and disease on humans, the mindlessness that created unimaginable torments to human beings. What is described as Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Olives began with a flood of sadness, fear and weariness, which gradually gave way to pain and even to a 'sweat of blood.’ Can we see him offering us love as he is overwhelmed by the torrents of our iniquities? In fact in his natural reaction of revulsion, he pleads with his Father: ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine’ (Luke 22:42). In fact, Jesus was surrounded by the powers of darkness. Betrayed by one of his own company, the Sinless One was first handed over to the soldiers who make a mockery of him to chide the Jews. They beat him; torture and scourge him as a common criminal. Ignominy is heaped on the Holy One of God. Eventually he is condemned and fastened to a Cross, mounted between two thieves. The Prophet Isaiah had foretold the outrages that afflicted him and the humiliations that oppressed him. The Prophet foretold the scene at Calvary: ‘As the crowds were appalled on seeing him, so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human, so will the crowds be astonished at him. Without beauty, without majesty we see him, no looks to attract our eyes; a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces; He was despised and we took no account of him’ (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2-3).
His passion and death was Christ’s sacrifice that gives infinite glory to his Father and expresses in his love what the Father asked for. It would redeem humanity, restore the proper order in creation and open for us the springs of everlasting life. So St. Paul was able to tell the Romans: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do; sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:1-5).
The love that Jesus showed for the Father was prompted by his love and concern for the apostles and all who would accept them and their successors throughout the centuries. ‘Greater love than this no man has, than a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). St Paul states this as; ‘Christ die for all’ (2Corinthians 5:15).
When speaking of the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep, Jesus says ‘The Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as it is in my power to take it up again; and this is the command I have been given by my Father’ (John 10:17). Before his arrest, Jesus resisted the temple guards, arguing that ‘I sat daily with you in the Temple and you laid no hands on me’ (Matthew 26:55). When he is brought before Pilate, he makes it clear to him, ‘You would have no power over me, if it had not been given you from above’ (John 19:11). However, because it is his Father’s will, he submits himself to Pilate - for our sakes.