I hear the question every year: Why did Jesus have to die? Why did He have to die so horribly?
First of all, Jesus was human like us in all things but sin, and like all human beings, He had to die. Unfortunately, His death was by execution in one of the most barbaric ways possible.
Second, Jesus’ death was political. He had become the object of hate and prejudice by people who saw in Him as a threat to their religious authority and political standing. One way or another, they had to get rid of Him. By way of footnote, this sure sounds a lot like what’s going on in our country today towards individuals and groups.
Jesus’ death was the also the fruit of His absolutely unconditional love for every person in the world, including His enemies. It was a love that mirrored the Father’s love for us, and was so intense that Jesus was ready to sacrifice His own life for it. I’ve heard many parents say this same thing about sacrificing their lives for their children and we are God’s children.
There is no doubt that Jesus suffered intense physical pain. But His mental and spiritual pain must have been far worse. He saw His mission collapse all around him in total failure. His disciples had all, for the sake of their own skins, taken to their heels. Would anyone remember anything He taught or did? There was, at this special time of need, a terrible loneliness.His disciples fell asleep in the garden when He especially needed their support. They ran off as soon as people came to arrest Him. Even the Father seems to be silent, the Father who could send legions of angels to rescue him but apparently did nothing. There is the final poignant cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
How does all this lead to our salvation? Was it because He suffered and died for us?Was it because He made the ultimate sacrifice? Or was it because, in the words of the Second Reading from Philippians, He “emptied Himself?” Matthew in today’s Gospel Reading says that at the moment of His death, Jesus “released the spirit.” It is a way of saying that He breathed His last breath and died. But it also has the other meaning that the life, sufferings and death of Jesus, when properly understood, released a power into the world, the power of the Spirit of God, a Spirit with which Jesus Himself was filled. It’s a Spirit, which centuries later, also fills us.
May you have a blessed Holy Week and a Happy Easter!
Fr. Herb, C.S.C.