Why Jesus Died

As Holy Week approaches, we will hear of that "death for others" which is the assurance of salvation for all of us. Indeed, at the center of every liturgy is the presence of Jesus as he was in his last moments: given for you, poured out for you. Two other thoughts tradition has found in the passion of Jesus are important. First, Jesus died innocent. Luke, who emphasizes this point more than anyone else, has Pilate say officially and three times (hence a solemn decision): I find no cause in this man. Certainly in the early decades of preaching in Israele and throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the death of Jesus, to all appearances that of a criminal, needed explanation; one of these explanations, perhaps the simplest one, was that he was innocent, authority was in this case wrong. Second, it is clear from the objections to Jesus from authorities that if Jesus had simply stopped teaching, returned to Galilee and made chairs or whatever, he would never have been crucified. But he did not choose that path. Why not? Certainly, fidelity to his Father’s will is foremost. But there is another facet of this. He spent his public life witnessing to the truth of his message. Death would not make him deny what he knew to be true. Too much, he understood, depended on his unwavering teaching of the truth. Of this conviction martyrs are made, and Jesus on the cross is a martyr, an unswerving witness that the truth, by which, as 1 Peter says, we are freed from a worthless life, may appear. John Kilgallen, SJ

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