WAS IT GODíS WILL THAT JESUS DIE A CRUEL DEATH ON THE CROSS?

Reflection for Palm Sunday, Cycle B

Deciding what is and isnít Godís will can be difficult, to put it mildly, especially when bad things happen to good people. We wonder why? And we may wonder if the bad things are Godís will. I will comment on that question later, but first, let me address the question posed above: Was it Godís will that Jesus die a cruel death? The answer is "no" and "yes".

In what sense was it not Godís will for Jesus to die on the cross? (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 606-623, United States Catholic Catechism p. 91-94)

Jesus was executed because he was a big threat to the Jewish establishment (Catechism of the Catholic Church 574). Some of the leadership wanted to get rid of Jesus and they manipulated Pilate into doing their dirty work. Needless to say, it would be a gross error to blame all Jewish people for the death of Jesus. So Jesus was executed because his enemies wanted to get rid of him. In this sense, his death was an evil act. It would be a contradiction to say that our all-good God would desire such an evil act. It would also be wrong to say that God wanted a human sacrifice as a price for the sins of humanity. We know from the incident with Abraham and his son, Isaac, that God is very much opposed to human sacrifice (Gen 22:1-19).

In what sense was Jesusí death Godís will?

It was Godís will that Jesus be faithful to his mission even if it meant dying a cruel death. Jesus could easily have escaped death by not saying or doing things that threatened the religious leaders. He could have preached a safe gospel. But then he would not have been faithful to his mission. A true prophet says and does what he believes to be true even if it will cost him his life. We see this with the Old Testament prophets.

The example of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero, will be helpful here. All three felt called by God to carry out a certain mission - to be liberators of their people, and to speak truth to power. All three were assassinated for their "crime" of speaking truth to power. All three knew that they, like Jesus, would most likely pay the ultimate price for their fidelity to their mission. They could easily have escaped death by preaching a safe message. But in doing so, they would be unfaithful to God and to their mission. So they continued to say and do things knowing it endangered their lives.

Did God will for them to die? "No" and "yes." All three men died because their enemies wished to get rid of them. It certainly was not Godís will that evil people kill good men. Godís heart would be deeply grieved by such an event. But it was Godís will that all three be faithful to their mission even if it meant sacrificing their lives for the liberation of their people. In this sense, God willed the death of Gandhi, King and Romero. But we also know that God always turns the tables on such evil acts. The deaths of Gandhi, King and Romero brought about significant progress in the liberation of their people from oppression. Their sacrificial death gives us some glimpse into the significance of the death of Jesus.

It was Godís will that Jesus remain faithful to his mission even if it meant dying on a cross.

Because Jesus was God in human form, his death was infinitely more valuable for all of humanity. Looking at the death of Jesus in this way does not make God a bloodthirsty God. Rather, it makes him someone who wants us to be faithful to the truth we know. Looking at Jesusí death in this way helps us to see that we are saved by an act of sacrificial love. God took what was intended as an evil act and used it to save the world. In one of his poems, Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, uses the phrase "Terrible Beauty" to speak about the death of Christ. It is terrible in the sense that it symbolizes what evil people will do to stop goodness from moving forward. The cross is beautiful in that it symbolizes what Jesus was willing to do to show his love for sinful humanity.

The meaning of the cross for us

Never again need we look upon sacrificial love as useless. Sacrificial love always bears fruit whether we live to see it or not. The world is always better because of sacrificial love.

The cross might scare us from speaking truth to power. But it should also inspire us to do so.

Lord, protect me from a negative attitude

God, keep me from grumbling.
I know that there are few people harder

to put up with than those who are
always complaining.
Donít let me become like that.
Donít let me have discontent written
all over my face.
If I canít get my own way, donít let me sulk about it.
If I canít get what I want,
help me to make the best of what I have.
Donít let me take offence easily,
getting into a huff,
even when no harm was intended.
Help me all day and every day to
see the best in people.
Help me, too, to live in the certainty
that you are working all things
together for good.
May I have the patience to wait for your
purposes to work out.
This I ask for your loveís sake. Amen.
William Barclay

A prayer for trust in God

My God, I want to have confidence in
your love, but so many things seem to hold me back:
past wounds, past hurts, past betrayals,
past sins--mine and othersí.
Open my eyes. Open my heart.
Enable me to take the leap of faith
that is needed now.
Holiness isnít a matter of starting to love
you some time in the future,
or even tomorrow.
I donít have to wait until I become
a better person, more worthy, more virtuous.
Itís a matter of trusting in your mercy today,
just as I am.
You showed this to the saints; show me, too,
and give me a spirit of great confidence.
I ask this through your beloved Son,
our merciful Saviour. Amen.
Elizabeth Ruth Obbard