Monday, November 5, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 62, “Jesus’ Death”

Dear friend,

In lower year, I scored only one goal in varsity lacrosse. In upper year, I scored a bunch. You could say that I redeemed myself.

Likewise, my schoolboy performance in “Death of a Salesman,” about which enough ink has been shed. Reviews were mixed, to say the least. But in senior year I redeemed myself with my performance as Old Martin in “The Royal Hunt of the Sun,” according to our student newspaper and the top-shelf critics toiling there.

In each case, I began by doing less than my best work but made up for it with better work later on. As we say, I redeemed myself.

Could things get so bad that we can’t redeem ourselves, but that something greater than ourselves—say God—needs to step in and do the work for us? And what would that kind of redemption mean?

That’s the question Romano Guardini poses in his very short chapter on the death of Jesus. “Why did Jesus die?” he asks at the beginning. He didn’t die in battle, he was not “the victim of malevolent misfortune.” The answer is in the words of the Last Supper—“this is my body . . . given for you . . . this is the cup of my blood . . . shed for you.” Jesus dies to redeem us.

I will make this post short like the chapter by quoting Guardini’s explanation of redemption.

“God created man, who had no coherence, no life save in his Creator. Then man sinned; he attempted to free himself from this fundamental truth of his existence; attempted to be sufficient unto himself. And he fell away from God . . .

“God followed man (see the parables of the lost sheep and the missing groat in Luke 15) into the no man’s land which sin had ripped open. . . . He personally entered into that vacuous dark to fetch him, as St. John so powerfully expresses it in his opening Gospel. Thus in the midst of human history stood one who was both human and God. . . .

“Mere man cannot do this. He is so much smaller than his sin against God, that he can neither contain it nor cope with it. He can commit it, but he is incapable of fully realizing what he has done. He cannot measure his act; cannot receive it into his life and suffer it through to the end. Though he has committed it, he is incapable of expiating it. . . .

“God alone can handle sin.”

Sin, it seems, is a failure far greater than a scoreless streak in lacrosse or a poor performance on stage. Sin is the original failure, and still with us.

I don’t usually see my life this way. Mostly, I just want to improve, to get better, richer, stronger, more successful. After all, that’s what our good old school taught us, isn’t it? We can always redeem ourselves. Can’t we?

Your friend,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 63.

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