Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 25, 2001
Why did Jesus die on the Cross?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
My grandson, who is almost six, is asking about the crucifixion. I was able to respond to his question why Jesus died on the cross: "To show us how much he loved us." However, to explain to a child why the people called for his death presents a few choices. I don't want to get too complicated or political. (We have already absolved Pontius Pilate.) Could you please shed some light on the subject.
It is difficult to explain Jesus' death to an adult, let alone to a young child. I know of three-and-four-year-olds who don't want a crucifix hanging over their beds or even to see a crucifix because they can't cope with the image it presents. I think we have to respect that sensitivity.
Heaven knows they become insensitive to violent deaths on television only too quickly.
I believe that for young children, it would be good to focus more on Jesus' work with people in his ministry. I found it interesting that, after being well prepared by their teachers for the Anno Domini exhibit, kindergarten and first grade children were so excited to see the large and attractive canvas of Jesus with the children. That picture obviously conveyed to them what they need to know most profoundly, at that stage of their lives: that they are loved by God.
Just as Jesus loved the children when he was on earth, Jesus loves each of them today. That gives them a connection to Jesus that then will carry them into more difficult questions and times in their lives.
Of course, one cannot omit the crucifixion, for, as Catholics, that image surrounds us, especially when we approach Lent and Easter.
To get more directly to your question, one could say that when Jesus healed and helped the sick and suffering, when he told them how they should love one another, even those who hurt them, as well as when he taught them how to do the right thing, lots of people listened and believed in him.
The leaders who weren't always good and kind, didn't want to hear something like that so they shut their ears and got angry. The leaders were frightened because they thought the large crowds who followed Jesus might rebel against them.
The joyous entry of Jesus into Jerusalem accompanied by large numbers of people must have truly frightened the leaders. So they tried to figure out how to get the crowds from following Jesus.
I wouldn't be too quick to absolve Pontius Pilate. Obviously, the Romans were ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus, as they were in control. But they were fearful of losing their authority and failing to keep order.
Pilate had the opportunity to release Jesus instead of Barabbas but out of fear, he listened to those who called for the release of a criminal. The Gospel of Matthew (27:24) indicates that Pilate was afraid that a riot was breaking out and that Pilate absolved himself by washing his hands of the affair even though his wife had warned him Jesus was innocent.
Pilate said he found no reason to convict Jesus, yet he had Jesus whipped and handed him over to be put to death. Have you ever wondered why Jesus refused to justify himself to Pilate?
Inasmuch as the people called for Jesus' death, the leaders influenced them. Why did the people let themselves be influenced? Mostly through fear of what would happen if they went against what the leaders wanted.
In the same way, we are tempted sometimes to follow others, especially our friends, when they misbehave out of fear they won't like us if we don't. But we need to be strong when it comes to doing the right thing.
Another reason that people were influenced is that people tend to get carried away by mob psychology. If everybody seems to be shouting, "Crucify him," we think we might as well do so too.
We have to learn to use our heads as well as our hearts, when we are faced with choices. And it isn't too early to introduce the idea that choices must be made throughout one's life. Even a five-year-old can understand that.