Well, yes, He did, but — and this is a gigantic but — certainly not in the way many Christians have been taught to believe: that the Son of God became man and died on Calvary to satisfy divine justice and pay for humankind’s sins.
“That’s heresy.” So said leading Filipino theologian Catalino Arevalo of the Jesuit-run Loyola School of Theology about the widespread teaching that God would not have forgiven humankind’s sins if Jesus Christ did not suffer and die for us.
The 90-year-old Jesuit was most emphatic in expounding on the wrong and right doctrines of divine forgiveness at his usual 9.30 a.m. Mass last Sunday in Our Lady of Pentecost Parish Church, Varsity Hills Subdivision, Loyola Heights.
“God sent His Son and allowed us to kill the Son to open our hearts to His Love,” Fr. Arevalo stressed in his homily on Laetare Sunday, the pink-vestment Fourth Sunday of Lent, which interrupts the season’s purple garb of atonement to celebrate the Mercy of God, just like Gaudete Sunday in the third of Advent’s four violet-clad weeks.
A false picture of God — Benedict XVI
In his lecture-like homily, Fr. Arevalo even read from the seminal 1968 book Introduction to Christianity, by German theologian Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, who is among the leading figures in Christian theology worldwide.
Ratzinger wrote that the faulty doctrine of God demanding Christ’s death for man’s sins may be understandable in light of man’s sense of justice and retribution. But it grossly disfigures the truth of God and “makes the image of [His] love incredible. This picture is as false as it is widespread.”
So let’s get this straight. God did not let His Son die as expiation for our sins, as many believers through two millennia have been led to believe. Rather, His Incarnation, Passion and Death express and invite us into God’s infinite love for humanity.
There are doctrinal and scriptural discussions of why God sent His Son to live, teach, suffer and die with humankind 2,015 years ago. Fr. Reginald Malicdem, Private Secretary of the Archbishop of Manila, cited four reasons in his doctrinal formation lecture to lay ministers last Saturday.
First, to reconcile man with God, Jesus Christ had to be both God and man. No mere man could fully communicate with the divine, and no one could speak for humankind except a human being.
Second, as Benedict XVI explained, Christ showed humanity the love of God in an earthly form and life that people can see and understand. In Jesus’s life and death, the fullness of God’s love is clearly manifested to men.
Third, to give us a model for holiness, which we can emulate to also become holy like God, rising above our fallen earthly nature. This sets man apart from other creatures as the only one able to achieve holiness.
Fourth, by combining divine and human natures in one person, Jesus Christ opened the door for all human beings to partake of God’s being and life as His children in His heavenly kingdom.
Divine love comes in human suffering
Of course, the most astounding and challenging aspect of Jesus’s portrayal of divine love in His life is the Passion and Death we commemorate at Lent. The fullness of
God’s love, as expressed in a human ‘s life, must include the total giving of oneself in the most excruciating and unjust suffering and death ever.
Anyone seeking to become holy and loving like God must embrace the Cross and live and love as Jesus did, all the way to one’s own Calvary. As the Lord told His Apostles at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And that means laying down our lives for one another as Christ did.
Suffering, of course, is inextricably part of humanity’s world and life. Even the wealthy and powerful eventually face disease, deterioration and death. And in showing man how to be holy and loving like God, Christ had to also undergo human suffering, or else His portrayal of Godliness in human terms would be woefully incomplete.
Most Christians, though, while holding fast to this doctrine of human suffering as the highest expression of divine love in our earthly life, may understandably feel that they can never achieve or even come close to the height, depth and intensity of Christ’s love as vividly and bloodily demonstrated on the Cross.
Thankfully, saints through the centuries, from the Blessed Virgin Mary to Mother Teresa and John Paul II, have shown how any person in any state of humanity can live lives of holiness and heavenly love.
On Thursday the saint with whom most family men can identify was extolled for his life of humility, acceptance and sacrifice before God. The Feast of Saint Joseph, the chaste spouse of Mary, Mother of God, was celebrated on March 19.
In his homily at the Santuario de San Jose fiesta mass in Greenhills, Bishop Teodoro Bacani said St. Joseph faced several crises — Mary’s pregnancy, no room at the inn for her to give birth, the flight to Egypt from Herod’s soldiers, and the boy Jesus’s disappearance in Jerusalem — and always acted with full trust and acceptance of God’s will, and every effort to care for Jesus and Mary.
The good bishop also remarked the Filipinos also face crisis after crisis, recounting the tribulations under various presidents. Yet the nation has persevered, and our faith and longsuffering spirit, not unlike Joseph’s, has always carried us through and shown us the love of God in our life as a people.
And in laying down His life for His beloved faithful, Jesus Christ points the way for all of us to find Him, His Father and Their Holy Spirit in our own blood, sweat and tears. Amen.