Disgusted to read in the morning paper that the Oilers have traded his favorite hockey player to the Flames, George throws the piece of toast he is eating across the kitchen, catching his wife Margaret square in the forehead. He then storms off to work, muttering to himself.
Later, George is embarrassed by what he has done. So, he takes one of several courses of action to make things better with Margaret:
1) He phones her, says he didn't mean for the toast to hit her, but then complains that his toast was burnt and that she cooked his eggs too long.
2) He does and says nothing in the hope that Margaret will forget about the errant piece of toast.
3) He phones Margaret and offers a heart-felt apology.
4) He drives halfway to work, turns around and goes home, apologizes and says he will give up his golf game that evening and take Margaret out to supper.
Margaret, no doubt, can forgive George in any of the above scenarios. Her forgiveness does not hang on what George decides to do. Nevertheless, the fourth course of action goes a lot further toward healing the bruised relationship than do the first two. Here, George actually makes a sacrifice as a way to restore the lost harmony.
It helps to keep a human example like this in mind as we begin to consider why God should forgive our sins. God does not need to be bought off with some sacrifice; he can forgive us no matter how self-centred or unrepentant we are. But God has chosen that his forgiveness be offered in response to the perfect human effort to seek that forgiveness.
Jesus did not come to earth to be killed. He was not on a suicide mission from God. He came to form a people into a community which wholly embraced the love of both God and neighbor. Yet he knew his crucifixion was the utterly predictable result of living out his mission faithfully.
It was Jesus' faithfulness through suffering to the point of death which the Father received as an offering of reconciliation on behalf of humanity. The offering was a suitable atonement for the sins of humanity, first, because Jesus was sinless himself and had no need to seek forgiveness and, secondly, because Jesus explicitly made his offering on behalf of humanity.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this succinctly: "This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices. First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself.
"At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience" (no. 614).
We ourselves have the possibility of salvation because the day before he died, Jesus made his offering available to us through the Eucharist. Jesus established a priesthood which would be able to recreate his offering of his body and blood for those in his new community after he left our midst.
Jesus didn't throw toast or commit any other sin and his sacrifice was something far, far greater than giving up a game of golf.
Reflecting on Christ's passion and death can teach us a lot about God's love for humanity as well as about how we ought to live as followers of Jesus.
It shows us the abominable effects of sin — that God must allow himself to be killed in order that our sins might be atoned for. Our striving to avoid sin will not retroactively erase the crucifixion, but it will lessen our role in making it necessary.
The crucifixion also shows the enormity of God's love for us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). We can share in God's love by participation in the sacraments and by performing actions which take that love out into the world.
Further, like Jesus, we need not always insist on our fair share of the world's goods. We can imitate the humility, perseverance and obedience of Christ by accepting injustice done to oneself.
But we can also know that, through Christ, God shared in every form of human suffering. He is in solidarity with us in our darkest moments and we can strive to be in solidarity with others in their times of desolation.
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