A love that atones
GOD’S WORD TODAY (The Philippine Star) - October 17, 2015 - 10:00am

During the Day of Atonement the Jewish high priest sacrificed a ram as a burnt offering and cast lots between two goats, one of which was to be slain and whose blood was used to cleanse the altar, and the other which was set free to wander into the wilderness carrying with it the transgressions of the people.

After encountering the Risen Lord, the disciples of Jesus grappled to make sense of his passion, death and resurrection. They did so by borrowing the religious language of Israel but expanding the original meaning. For instance, they appropriated the concepts of sacrifice, atonement and the function of the high priest in order to explain the impact of Jesus’ death and resurrection on all of us.

Thus, our Second Reading proclaims Jesus is the new high priest who is both offerer and sacrifice. In contrast to the Jewish high priest who did not shed blood as he spilled the blood of the lambs, Jesus is both high priest, mediator between God and humanity, and lamb whose blood atones for our sins.

Jesus “gives his life as an offering for sin” (Is. 53:10). Through his suffering many will be justified.

At this point it might be good to surface some of our troubling questions: Did the Father pre-ordain Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross? Was God so angry at us so that Jesus had to appease his wrath by dying on the cross? Our response to all these is a resounding No.

Jesus’ mission was not to die on the cross but to proclaim God’s kingdom of compassion and justice. Jesus’ mission was not to appease the Father’s anger on our behalf, but to embody the Father’s inclusive love and unfathomable mercy. The cross was the consequence of Jesus’ fidelity to his mission to proclaim and embody the Father’s unconditional love for all.

What led Jesus’ disciples to attach an atoning significance to his passion, death and resurrection? We may ask, what was the connection between Jesus’ death and the wiping away of their sins?

Their encounter with the Risen Lord was a transformative experience of God’s mercy. We must recall that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, Peter denied knowing Jesus thrice, the male disciples of Jesus, save the beloved, fled upon Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.

Nonetheless, in all the appearance accounts of the Risen Lord, there is no demand for an accounting for their sins of denial and abandonment. There is only the offer of peace and friendship. There is no demand for an apology from his disciples, only the reinstatement of Jesus’ trust in them. There is no severance of ties, instead the commissioning to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Jesus forgave his disciples despite their betrayal and abandonment. We can better understand the atoning significance of Jesus’ death by reflecting on our experiences of God’s mercy rescuing us and giving us life anew. When did God redeem me from my self-destructive behaviors which had hurt the people I love most? When did I experience the grace of reconciliation with people I had betrayed or failed? When did the Lord rescue me miraculously from a hopeless situation or a near-fatal accident or a terminal illness? When did I experience God’s unconditional love through others who have totally accepted me as I am, flaws, inconsistencies, broken promises and all?

In Jesus who is Lord, God loves us unto death on the cross. Through Jesus, who is Divine Mercy, God continues to love and embrace me, to offer me forgiveness and the promise of life without guilt or shame, healed of self-loathing and doubt, brimming with joy and peace like the Risen Lord.

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