Fr. Caesar D’Mello replies to Sunita D’souza’s question.
Facts: From the Gospels we know that Christ lived a hidden life for 30 years, then began his public ministry. He won the hearts of the simple common people, but antagonised the Scribes, Pharisees and the elders, which led to his arrest, torture, crucifixion, death and his rising from the dead. Some sections of the New Testament, especially Paul and John, give us the meaning and interpretation of Christ’s suffering and death. We concur the three ways of understanding Jesus’ suffering and death.
- St. Anselm of Canterbury, who lived in the eleventh century, spoke of Christ’s suffering and death as an atonement. He developed a model of expiation of guilt and reparation for sin. His theory of satisfaction aimed to explain how Christ’s death restored the divine “honour”, which sin offends. Today, this theory has fallen on hard times. It seems to centre on divine honour rather than divine love. Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world.
- The second view is advocated by Gustaf Aulen in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Christ’s death-resurrection is interpreted as a victory or a redemption over evil powers, a liberation. The followers of Christ share in that unique death, which resulted in the victory of the redemption. In this view, Christ is the victorious lamb of the book of Revelation.
- The third view was first expressed by Peter Abelard in the sixteenth century. He spoke of Christ’s redemption in terms of the supreme example of love, which Jesus gave in obedient suffering and death. The third model of redemption centres on the power of Christ’s love to heal and transform human hearts. His death and resurrection work through the love they reveal. In this third model, Jesus is no longer the lamb, but the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus expresses this thought in the Gospel of John (15:13) Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for the sheep.
Practicality In Modern Times: The four Gospels and other New Testament authors establish as a historical fact: the suffering, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. Some writers like Paul and John tried to make sense of Christ’s death and resurrection and offered their interpretations. Theology is defined as faith seeking understanding. Christian writers have down the years have tried to understand Christ’s death and resurrection and its impact on us. The three views summarised above are attempts to understand and interpret the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death. The third view of Christ’s self-offering that resulted in his death and resurrection would seem to vibe better with today’s way of thinking.
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