Dear Father Angelo,
my name is Antonio and I’m from the province of Taranto.
I’ll be brief and I apologize if my question is trivial. In which way did Jesus die for us? Could you clarify for me this beautiful concept?
Remember me in your prayers.
1. I’m presenting to you the meaning of the death of Jesus through the words of a French scholar – Jean Guitton.
He wrote them in a book titled My Little Catechism.
The subtitle is: Conversation With a Child.
It presents the meaning of Jesus’ death in extremely simple terms.
Here’s what he writes:
2. “In order to explain to you the death of Jesus for our sins I will read to you (and you will learn it) the page of a prophet who, despite having lived five hundred years before Jesus, foresaw what was going to happen.
Isaiah describes a character that he calls the servant, God’s servant, “my just servant”. We are all God’s servants. However, the one he announces was an extraordinary servant.
«He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, Like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all. fThough harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth. Seized and condemned, he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his destiny? For he was cut off from the land of the living, struck for the sins of his people. He was given a grave among the wicked, a burial place with evildoers, Though he had done no wrong, nor was deceit found in his mouth. But it was the Lord’s will to crush him with pain. By making his life as a reparation offering, he shall see his offspring, shall lengthen his days, and the Lord’s will shall be accomplished through him. Because of his anguish he shall see the light; because of his knowledge he shall be content; My servant, the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the many, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death, was counted among the transgressors, Bore the sins of many, and interceded for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53)»
I don’t know if you understood this page, but I’ll make a comparison. It happens sometimes that a man offers his life to save that of others: a soldier in war, for example. The enemies invade the Country, so the soldiers risk their lives to save the women, children and all the people. We call this dying for your homeland and we consider this noble gesture to be a great glory.
In a similar way, it happens that a doctor dies to save his patients, or that a scientist risks his life for a discovery that will benefit all humanity. The cosmonauts who went to the moon risked their lives. We could cite many more examples. Recently, a pilot, taken hostage, sacrificed his life to save that of the passengers of the plane. In your heart, you feel the beauty of these actions and can therefore understand the word of Jesus: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. During the last world war, a Polish priest named Kolbe was a prisoner inside a death camp. One of the other prisoners had escaped, so the Nazis chose ten prisoners to starve to death. Knowing that one of them was a family man, the priest Kolbe, disciple of Saint Francis, offered himself in his place, dying of starvation in prison several days later, in 1942.
All of these examples show that there is in man a profound desire for purity, justice and redemption and it can happen that a man submits himself to suffering and to death in order to avoid somebody else’s suffering and death. This we call sacrifice. In your heart you can understand that there’s nothing more beautiful than sacrificing like this for others. A mother sacrifices herself for her child.”
3. At this point Jean Guitton imagines the child asking him the following question: “How could Jesus’ death erase man’s sin?”.
And he answers like this: “If I can make you understand this, we’ll have come to the heart of Christianity. You make the sign of the cross on your forehead and shoulders. This is the sign of a Christian: pronouncing the words “in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, you evoke at the same time the death of Jesus on the scaffold of the cross, which is the scaffold of Redemption.
In one second, with your words and your gesture, you proclaim Christianity: a multitude of martyrs have died over the span of two thousand years precisely to proclaim this faith.
Just like the servant of God I talked to you about a few moments ago, by reading the text of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus has willed to take upon Himself the punishment that should have fallen on us, to free us and to save us for eternal happiness.
I will make a comparison: I imagine some birds that want to fly toward the sky. But there’s a net, not unlike those that fishermen use to catch fish, between the ground and the sky; the net is so thick that the birds cannot go through it and fall back to the ground. I see a bird more courageous than the others, stronger than the others, who goes through the net, but paying with its blood, it gets wounded. So all the other birds fly through the opening it made in the net and fly toward the sky with it. This image represents what the Christians believe about Jesus. They know that they are incapable of rising towards pure light because of Adam’s original sin and because of all their personal sins. But Jesus, who is both man and God, sacrifices Himself. He sheds His blood, dies, goes through the net, making a hole in it in the process, and everybody else can rise up towards the light, following Him. Doing this isn’t easy. It is necessary that Jesus be reviled, disfigured, insulted, despised and that He sheds all His blood. This is Redemption.”.
4. The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses different words to express the same concept:
“This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices. First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.” (CCC 614).
5. Jesus replaces His obedience to our disobedience.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who “makes himself an offering for sin”, when “he bore the sin of many”, and who “shall make many to be accounted righteous”, for “he shall bear their iniquities”. Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father. (CCC 615).
6. “It is love “to the end” that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. Now “the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.” (CCC 616).
7. As you can see, your question is simple, but not trivial.
It is a question we have to come back to often in order to remember the meaning of our life and of redemption.
I wish that this redemption takes place in you in the most vast and fruitful way possible, I recommend you to the Lord and bless you.