Pardon me, for my Easter reflection is going to begin with Good Friday. After all, if there was no Good Friday, there would be no Easter Sunday. A parishioner was grappling with faith questions. She said, “Why did Jesus have to die? I understand that the Old Testament teaches us that the blood of animals was offered as sin offering. Could not God have saved us without the shedding of the further blood? Is our God a vengeful God who cannot be placated without an atoning sacrifice?
These are very significant theological questions and there is a reason I am letting these questions dominate my Easter homily — because our answer to these Good Friday questions affects our understanding the resurrection of Jesus.
I have three points to make today. My first two points present two alternative ways to understand the death of Jesus. These alternative ways have practical implications for us and how we live our Easter life. In my third point, I will address the dilemma of the life of Judas, since he is portrayed as the one who betrayed Jesus to death.
1. Empathetic Identification. The first alternative view about the death of Jesus comes comes from Jerome Miller, a professor of theology at the Salisbury University in Maryland. He says, that the problem with the traditional view of atonement is that the human being, who is already the victim of sin, becomes a victim once again in the person of Jesus. In Jesus, who became human, humanity is victimized again. This is contrary to God’s righteousness, which is tempered with mercy.
Alternatively, he suggests that we see the cross as “empathetic identification.” In this view, the focus of God’s redemptive action on the cross is the violated human being as the violated human being. Through the cross God empathetically identifies with the victims of sin. In the crucified Christ we are encouraged to see a God, who knows as no one else does, the suffering of human beings. The biggest difference in this view from the retribution view is that Christ is not some much a surrogate, but a victim of suffering, like all of us. By Christ’s suffering and death, he becomes the one who rescued us from death rather than pray the price for it.
This has practical implications for us. If we understand the death of Jesus as empathetic identification, then Easter calls us to two things: first, to recognize Jesus who is with us as our God. When life becomes a burden, we must remember that the risen Christ has been there before. Christ’s followers to do the same; and second, the triumph of Easter is calls us to refrain us from making other people victims of our triumph. At Easter, like Christ, we identify with those who are suffering and bring them hope and life. Be it an addict, a person battling terminal illness, a victim of domestic abuse, a victim of a bad marriage, a person stuck in the cycle of poverty, or a homeless person — Easter calls us to do what Christ did for us.
2. The Cross: Transforming Evil into Good. The second view comes from a great theologian by the name of Bernard Lonergan. He says: “This is why the Son of God became man, suffered, died, and was raised again; because divine wisdom has ordained and divine goodness has willed, not to do away with the evils of the human race through power, but to convert those evils into a supreme good according to the just and mysterious Law of the Cross. Two examples from the cross would help us understand this – first Christ’s forgiveness from the Cross and second the episode with the repentant thief. First, even when confronted by the most violent death, Christ does not offer violence in return but rather forgiveness and an opportunity for reconciliation. By this Christ attempts to convert his violent murderers away from violence toward peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Second, he offers the Kingdom of God to the repentant thief. Here is the ultimate hope for the sinner – the doors of Paradise are never shut for anyone permanently. In this view again, Christ is not so much a surrogate but an expression of the love of God that converts all evil into good. The cross should be enough to turn all of humanity to God.
This has practical implication for us. If the cross of Christ is understood as God’s attempt to transform evil into supreme good, then Easter become the catalyst event by which Christians transform evil into good. We do this in the footsteps of Christ, who did not repay evil with evil, but rather, conquered it with supreme good. The violence and wars that rage in the world today tells us that the world still lives by “eye-for-any-eye” and “tooth-for-a-tooth” principle. How often are you and I tempted to repay evil with more evil! How often you and I find it difficult to believe that good will ultimately prevail? If we believe in Easter, then Easter is call to each one of us to transform evil into good like Jesus did.
3. Easter: Allowing God to be God. In the Christian story, Judas, along with Pilate and the chief priests are the ultimate villains. Former enemies got together to conspire against Jesus. But Judas get the worst wrap because he was a friend-turned-betrayer. Christians deal with the betrayal in many ways. The most empathetic view is that Judas was merely a player in the ultimate Easter triumph.
Scripture scholars teach us that there is an alternative way to look of Judas action. They tell us that Judas’s intention was not to betray Jesus, but rather, his real failure was to misunderstand God’s plan. Judas did not understand the concept of a “suffering messiah.” He continued to hope beyond hope that Jesus was the “Messiah” who would overthrow the Romans and bring liberation to God’s people. By betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, Judas was trying to hasten Jesus toward a struggle for liberation. Judas did not expect Jesus to surrender to the Romans in the garden of Gethsemane. He expected Jesus to fight back and thus begin the fight for independence. To his shock, Jesus did not retaliate. God had a very different plan. Through Jesus, God’s plan was to liberate not just the Israelites but all humanity. His plan was not to win the world through violence but through love. when Judas saw that his plan failed, he could not handle his actions. Neither could he see that God would bringing something good out of his impatience and limited vision. Judas killed himself.
If this view has any credence, it has serious practical implications for us. So often we fail to look at things from God’s perspective. So often, impatience leads us to take things into our hands. To not be in control is such a hard reality for us. Easter teaches us that we must allow God to be God. Easter teaches us to trust God to lead us rather than make attempts to lead God.
Today is Easter. If we are an Easter people, then, we are live with Christ’s life within us. Let us not just celebrate Easter - let us “be” Easter!
- Fr. Satish Joseph