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The Why of Jesus' Death

Deposition of Christ, 1507, drawing from Roman...Image via Wikipedia
Rome, ITALY (October 11, 2009) - The death of Christ on the cross is the only event which every day attracts more attention and admiration than any other events in the history of the world. Myriads of eyes cast their glance daily at the cross and profess their faith in the good shepherd who sacrificed his very life for the sheep that they may have life: life in abundance. For a non-believer who reads the life of Christ as a mere history cannot find anything beyond the enmity of the Jews and the fickle character of the Roman Governor behind the death of Jesus. A close reflection on the passion, crucifixion and the death of Jesus indeed unveils a meticulously calculated intent of the religious authorities of the time. They wanted to put an end to his teachings once and for all, as the teachings of Christ were opposed to their religious practises. They thought that the crucifixion, a sign of disgrace and curse, would finally be the end of the Galilean. On the road to Calvary, Jesus faced the bitterest moments of his life obediently and embraced death on the cross voluntarily. The last phase of the life of Christ was filled with disgraceful experiences unimaginable to humanity. The apostles who had been with Jesus for three years, the disciples who had been following him attracted by his teachings, people who were fed, cured and forgiven by him, people who had been witnesses to his miracles asked to themselves in despair: why had Jesus, the righteous, to die? He had been their hope and they believed that he would liberate them giving a new life. Their hope in the Messiah was shattered and they were scattered after the crucifixion of their Master. For the religious authorities the death of Jesus in the most disgraceful way was the complete failure of a highly influential religious leader of the time. 

In our search to find a theological explanation for the ridiculous and cruel end of Jesus’ life, we will be immediately confronted with the Pauline understanding of the death of Jesus. As a staunch religious leader, he searched for a profound meaning for the brutal destiny of Christ. Death on the cross was the punishment given to the most wretched criminals. Dying outside the city gate signified a death without God. In the case of Jesus, he was crucified outside the city gate. Thus, his death suggested a sinner’s death: a sinner far away from God’s grace. However, Paul sees something more in the Saviour’s death than the roman cruelty, beyond the roman spear and nail. He looks, beyond the Jewish malice, up to the Sacred Fountain form where he drinks and quenches his thirst. For him, the salvific value of Christ’s death finds expression on the cross. There is no Christology without cross. St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians expounds that Christ died for our sins. It was in tune with the early Jewish-Christian interpretation of the death of their Messiah that Jesus shared the fate of God’s servant, of whom Isaiah spoke in his four hymns (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). His religious upbringing has played a pivotal role in the formulation of his theological thought regarding the passion and death of Christ. In the Jewish tradition, any pious Jew tried to find an answer from the scripture itself for anything that was beyond the human grasp. With this intellectual and religious backing like any other Jew he too believed that there is a reason for the suffering. Paul developed a theology of redemption centred on the vision of risen Christ on the road to Damascus, which changed Saul into Paul. For him Jesus died to expiate the sins of mankind. Jesus took up the cross on himself willingly in order to open up to all men the road that leads to the Father extending everyone salvation proclaimed by him during his public ministry. The expiatory role of Jesus’ death is a very significant Pauline contribution to the followers of Christ who had lost hope in the promises of Jesus and his role in the salvation of the world. 

Further, St. Paul sees on the cross the divinity of Jesus which transcends our fragile human nature. The death of Christ on the cross is the door, which leads the sinful man to the process of divinization. The so-called folly of the cross is the strength of Jesus and not the weakness. The humility of Jesus on the cross, exalted the weakness of the sinful humanity transforming it into a glorified humanity. In other words, Jesus died on the condemned cross to make the weak powerful, to make the sinners holy and to elevate us to the dignity of the children of God. Thus, Jesus on the cross is the most sublime expression of the liberating, merciful and divine love of the Father oriented towards the salvation of the whole mankind. 

The Lukan answer to the “why” of Jesus’ suffering and death is complimentary to the Pauline understanding of the salvific value of the suffering and death of Christ. Luke, in his turn, explains Jesus’ death in a more appealing and acceptable way to a non-Jewish community, who could not grasp the idea of an expiatory death by proxy. For Luke, the death of Jesus is the divine manifestation of the merciful Will of the Father who wishes to save everyone from the clutches of sin and death. Through Jesus, the Father offered a new life to all. It is an offer open to everybody. In this process of extending the prodigal love of the Father to the children living in utter darkness and adversity, in sin and disorder, Jesus comes out victorious despite terrific suffering and disgraceful death on the Cross, defeating all the evil powers and penetrating into the human history giving it a new meaning and hope. From the death of Christ on the Cross, emerged a new life. Out of this reality the new Easter People are born. 

Contact Information 
Contact : 
Father Jerom Paul 
Via Raffele Aversa 44 
00128 Roma 

Keywords: Jesus, St. Paul, Death 
Categories: Lent, OP/ED 

Biodata of the Author 
Name: Father Jerom Paul 
Born on 28th January 1970 in India 
Ordained Priest on 24th 1996 
Field of Ministry: Rector of the Seminary, Chancellor of the Diocese, Secretary to the Bishop, Diocesan consultor, 
Academic Qualifications: Licentiate in Canon Law 
At Present Doctoral Student in Rome 

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