By Carmina M. Chapp
Special to the CS&T
How can Jesus’ condemnation to death be considered just? How is it justice that an innocent victim be given a death sentence? Only when we consider the crime can we understand the necessary conditions for justice.
God the Father in heaven loves His people completely. We read in John’s Gospel that God is love, and we see this exemplified in the Trinitarian life. The three persons of the Trinity give themselves to each other in a self-sacrificial love so completely that they are one God.
This same love is poured forth to humanity and gives life. It takes form in a personal relationship with God and the revelation of His teachings. God offers to us all we need to live in peace with Him.
The sin of the world is a rejection of this love. In rejecting the Father’s love, one is rejecting the source of life. The just consequence for sin is death. When one turns away from the source of life, one dies.
Certainly, there are levels of this rejection. Mortal sin is complete rejection with free consent. Venial sin is less serious, but rejection none the less. The death sentence is just in light of the crime, the sin of the world.
But why an innocent victim? How is this justice? Jesus’ innocence is not accidental. He is not simply doing humanity a favor. Nor is he a scapegoat.
Jesus offers His innocent life in reparation for the sin of the world because He is the only one who can do this and have it be justice. His innocence is what makes it just. God innocently suffers rejection from humanity.
In the innocent man, humanity gives back the same experience. The scales are balanced. Humanity suffers what God suffers.
It is Jesus’ mission to save humanity from sin, a mission given to Him by His Father. Isn’t the Father being cruel? How could He do this to His Son? How could he demand so much?
We know from John’s Gospel that the Father does this solely out of love for humanity, out of a desire to give life and be united in love.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Jesus takes up His cross out of love for His Father. Their love is so intimate that the Father’s will is His own. He shares the Father’s desire to save humanity, and accepts His mission.
He took on flesh, became fully human, because only as a human being could justice be served. He suffered in His humanity what His Father suffered at the hands of humanity – nothing less than complete rejection of His love.
Jesus takes up His cross also out of love for humanity. He takes it up willingly, not as a scapegoat. He knows what He is to do – to be the innocent victim to make reparation for the sin of the world, to make things right between His Father and His people. He takes it up with purpose. He embraces it. It is why He was born of the Virgin Mary.
During this season of Lent, we have the opportunity to ponder the weight of our sin and the just consequences for it, which is nothing less than death. Sin equals death – to be without life and without God. This is the true starting point for our appreciation of what Jesus is doing when He takes up His cross, and what He accomplishes on our behalf in doing so.
Dr. Carmina M. Chapp is a former director of the Religious Studies spanision of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.