15 April 2006

Did Jesus Set Up His Own Demise?

I'm sure that this may be seen as justification for laziness, but quite frankly I've been hard-pressed to find better words this year to explicate to my parishioners the mystery of Our Lord's Passion. Furthermore, I am increasingly loathe to depart from the wisdom of the fathers--especially one whose Tome shaped a formative Council. And I tremble at the hubris of attempting to correct them, cognizant of the fact that they are more knowledgable of the Scriptures, and holier in speech and conduct, than I. So, once again, I borrow from St Leo the Great--not slavishly (as on Holy Wednesday) but paraphrastically. For I have found his words both comforting, and quite contemporary.

As if to excuse the inexcusable; as if to cover up the sin that exposes all our sins; as if to justify the betrayer who exemplifies our betrayal—it is foolishly asserted that Our Lord Jesus elaborately set up and arranged His own demise. Of course, some might say, He did this for the good of all. He just needed help with the details. And so the ends justify the means.

But this means that the Righteous One committed evil by urging one of His own to sin. More than that, it says that Our Lord Jesus was not betrayed and killed by sinful men, but by His own will to complete the task.

Was the wickedness of Christ’s persecutors arranged and plotted out by the Father? Was this unsurpassable crime set in motion by the hand of God? Clearly, we must neither think nor believe this. For it is one thing to say that Our Lord knew what would happen to Him; and another to say that He arranged His own betrayal and death.

The truth is that the desire to kill the Messiah did not spring from the same source as His desire to die. Their desire, fueled by unmitigated hatred, was the ultimate act in trying to be like God. Our Lord’s desire, fueled by immeasurable love, was the ultimate act in restoring us to God’s image so that we might continually mature into His likeness. His desire and will came from the Holy Spirit. Their desire and will was of the devil.

So Our Lord did not incite, but rather permitted, those madmen’s naughty hands. And while He knew ahead of time what would happen, He did not compel them to do the sinful deed—even though, through it, He completed the first half of His mission in our flesh.

For you do know that His mission was not simply to suffer and die. Any man could have done that. But Our Lord’s mission reached its fullness when, after His passion and martyrdom, He descended into hell to release those bound by Satan’s death-grip; and then ascended from the grave, bursting open the gates of death and transforming them into the gates through which the righteous now enter life eternal.

So because His goal was not simply to die, but also to raise us to life; because He aimed not at His self-destruction, but at our restoration; because His will was not to die as a martyred hero, but to grant unending life to those destined to die—for this reason, what Our Lord Jesus undertook could not be reversed, while what the hateful mob did could be wiped out. For He who came to save sinners did not refuse mercy even to His murderers. While they were blinded with rage, He prayed for their forgiveness. In doing so, He converted their evil wickedness into their way—and your way—to Life. And with this, God’s grace becomes all the more wonderful, and the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge is seen to be all the more magnificent and worthy of our unending praise. For it is His mercy which turned the blood they shed into the blood that saved them. It is His mercy that made the body they sacrificed the sacrifice that atones for our sin. And it is His mercy that transformed their cries for His death into our hymns of adoration.

And so, even though He was willing to suffer what He knew had to be—what He knew was coming—that does not mean that Our Lord was the author of their crimes, or one who maniacally set in motion His own death. No one asked, urged, compelled or tricked Judas or the others into doing evil for the sake of good. But when evil was done to Him, Our Lord humbly and dispassionately permitted it so that He could use their madness in order to accomplish their salvation, and your salvation, and the salvation of all creation. And in doing so, He salvaged and recalled many who had a hand in His death—men like Peter who denied Him; and the others, who forsook Him; and the 3000 who 50 days later repented and were baptized in the same blood they had shed.

Yet the ungodliest of men—the “son of perdition” together with many of the priests and leaders—these were inflamed by a hatred that even Our Lord could not put out, because they were unwilling. They did not think the Lord’s promises were believable, and so they preferred their self-chosen addictions of pride, greed, and living life now. And in choosing what they preferred—in choosing against their Lord—they chose their own death. Is it any wonder, then, that Judas saw no way out but to hang himself? For he had not believed in mercy before; and he surely did not believe in it then. But the other betrayer—that is, Simon Peter—he held out hope, just like the Ninevites before him. And like them, he recalled the Lord’s mercy and re-invited the Lord’s cleansing by his tears of repentance.

The fact, then, is that Our Lord God, in His mercy, is determined to save us. So when He was ready, according to His own purpose and without any evil design, the Father led His Son in the Spirit to the top of the mountain where He was crucified, dead and buried. But this was not because Jesus was doomed to die, but in order to redeem us from death’s captivity. For the Word became flesh so that, from the Virgin’s womb, He might put on our suffering nature and be capable of undergoing our death. In this way, and in a great yet wonderful mystery, what could not be inflicted on the Son of God was inflicted on the Son of Man. For although He is very God of very God and the Life of the world, yet for our sakes He truly assumed our weaknesses and, without sinning, became our sin and spared Himself not human frailty. And He did this so that, in His resurrection and by our incorporation into Him in the sacred mysteries, He might—in a wonderful manner—impart to us what belongs to Him, and heal in Himself what is ours.

Therefore, since He has restored us by His resurrection from the dead; since He has not only shown us but also given us such remarkable mercy; and since all life that lives is completely dependent upon the life He died to live in us—let us not give into our pride or grow smug in self-satisfaction by excusing our sin, or the sin of His betrayer. For we have nothing—except what we have received from Him in His Spirit. And we have nothing to give—except to give thanks in His holy Church. And we have no other way to live—except to live the life He has planted within us. And this life is not a life that gives us license to live as we please, but to live only for Him by keeping His commandment to love His Word by loving one another.

Let us, then, love His mercy by being merciful. And let us love His sacrifice by partaking of it regularly. And let us love His love by holding to all His commandments. For Our Lord Himself is our way, and through Him alone do we come to the fullness of communion with the Father. So let us tread the path of His endurance and humiliation by living against our flesh, by resisting evil, by running from sin, by chasing away the clouds of despair, and by living courageously through the storms of fear. No doubt, as long as we are in this life, we shall know the snares of the wicked, the persecutions of the unbelieving, the threats of the powerful, the insults of the proud. But we must also remember that all these things the Lord of hosts and King of glory has successfully passed through in the form of our weakness and in the likeness of sinful flesh. And He has done this so that, when we face the dangers that threaten our life in God, we might desire, not so much to avoid and escape them, as to endure and overcome them and finally gain the victory through Christ Our Lord, to whom with the Father in the Holy Spirit belongs all glory, honor and worship.


Fr John W Fenton said...

Pr Weedon,

Is this artwork more preferable than that which was previously chosen?


William Weedon said...

Er... YES!!!!!