March 21, 2008


Why didn’t Jesus escape?

When Jesus knew that he was about to be arrested and condemned to what Cicero called “the most cruel and disgusting penalty” of crucifixion, why didn’t he escape? Wouldn’t you try to get away if you were in that garden of Gethsemane?

Earlier, after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and the Sadducees decided to get the Romans to kill Jesus, he hid in a village called Ephraim, about 12 miles from Jerusalem at the edge of the Judean Desert.

Why didn’t he go there again? It would have taken him only about 15 minutes to climb the Mount of Olives from Gethsemane and be on his way on a road that ran from there to the Judean Desert.

He didn’t do that because he chose to be crucified. As he had told his Apostles, that was his Father’s will. He explained it to his Apostles many times, even though they refused to accept it.

Of course, he could have gotten away. He said, “Do you think that I cannot pray to my Father, who would at once send me more than 12 legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53).

But he didn’t do that. He was determined to follow his Father’s will.

It’s not that he wasn’t tempted to run when the time came. Just as any human would do, he wanted to get out of it. In his agony in the garden, knowing full well what was soon to happen, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.” But then he quickly added, “Still, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42, Mt 26:39, Mk 14:36).

But why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion? Couldn’t God have saved us in some other way?

Of course, he could, if he did it by accepting some imperfect expressions of human repentance and atonement. But God willed that our redemption be achieved in the most perfect way. No mere human, no matter how holy, could take on the sins of all humanity and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. Jesus, and only Jesus, could do so because only he was both God and man.

That was why God the Father sent his eternally begotten Son to earth, to restore the harmony with God that had existed before sin disrupted it. In that way, he showed his love for us.

As St. Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

And St. John’s Gospel tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

Jesus sacrificed himself for us. “I lay down my life of my own accord,” he said (Jn 10:17). He is called “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29) because he was sacrificed, not just killed, like the lambs the Jews offered to God in their temple in expiation for their sins. And the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus was also the priest who surrenders himself (Heb 2:14).

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “His sacrifice was an act of atonement, that is, it makes us one again with God by the power of divine mercy extending to us the Father’s forgiveness of our sins. His sacrifice is also called an act of satisfaction or reparation because he lives out fully the Father’s call to human beings to be faithful to his plan for them, thus overcoming the power of sin.

“It is also an expiation for our sins, which in the understanding of Scripture means that God takes the initiative in bringing about reconciliation to himself. In the words of Christian tradition, Jesus’ sacrifice merits salvation for us because it retains forever the power to draw us to him and to the Father” (p. 92).

By dying by crucifixion, Jesus obeyed the will of God, demonstrated his love for us, and accomplished our redemption.

While hanging on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

God’s plan was carried out.

—John F. Fink

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