A Savior and a Redeemer
by Fr. Jack McArdle
The whole story of salvation is based on human weakness. It is a story of God coming to meet us where we are, as we are. He could have loved us from a distance, but he decided to come among us, and, to go much further, as he knelt at the apostles' feet, with a basin of water and a towel. This was really accepting them at ground level, as it were.
There is a legend about God, the Great Composer of the Universe, and the wonderful and beautiful harmonious music that he wrote through his creation. He shared out each section of the orchestra to different sections of his creation. To the birds, he entrusted the pan pipes, and to the elephants he entrusted the bugles and the trumpets. The grasses were entrusted with the string music, and the clouds and the seas took on the role of percussion. Each section of his creation had a pivotal role to play in producing the heavenly harmony of God's creation. When it came to humans, however, God made a special decision. Because they were gifted with reason, and with common sense, God decided that they would know what harmonised and what didn't. He decided to trust them to know what belonged and what didn't belong in this harmony of creation. And so, the music began. The harmony was, literally, out of this world. Each section of the orchestra made a wonderful and vital contribution, and this contributed enormously to the beauty of the whole. This went on for some time, and, indeed, it was unthinkable that it should ever end.
Then one day, completely out of the blue, the worst possible scenario happened. In the midst of the harmony there was a screech, a roar, and a frightening unharmonious note that resounded throughout the universe. Every section of the orchestra came to a sudden stop. "What was that?" whispered the birds. "It was humans", replied the wind. "They have rebelled, refused to follow the harmony, and they want to do things their way". "What will happen now?" asked the clouds. "Will God scrap the whole score, and bring it all to an end?" The various possibilities of what God might do were discussed among different sections of the orchestra. However, all of them were off the mark. What did God decide to do? He reached out into the universe, and took hold of that one discordant note, and, using that as his theme, he wrote a completely new score, based entirely on that one discordant note. And that, my friend, is the story of God's Salvation, that is provided for us through Jesus Christ. Our brokenness, our failures, our human weaknesses provide the foundation on which God builds the whole economy of salvation. Another way of saying this is, if we had not failed, then Jesus would not have come.
A brief note on free-will, before we go any further, because it is vital that we grasp this concept if we are to understand how God deals with us. To do a good, presumes that I must have a choice of not doing the good, or of doing the evil; otherwise there is no merit in being good. An atheist cannot believe in something being good or bad, unless there is something or Somebody there to make it so. An atheist cannot believe in free-will. Free-will is a vast question, because we cannot be considered morally responsible human beings unless we have free-will. Without free-will there is no love, no wrong-doing, and all personal relationships are simply forms of manipulation. It is important to remember that we can make choices, we can make decisions. That is why, in creation, God could not possibly create human beings who are programmed in such a way that they could never sin, or turn their backs on him. Adam and Eve were totally free to walk away from the moment God created them. Jesus came to invite us back to the Garden; not to drag us, goose-step us, or blackmail us into obedience. Jesus invites us, and every invitation has RSVP written at the bottom of it. Not to reply is itself a reply.
In Jesus, the Creator had come to recreate. Apart from Calvary itself, the mission of Jesus is best seen when he was baptised in the river Jordan. John the Baptist had been calling on sinners to come out to the Jordan, acknowledge their sins, and be baptised in the waters for the forgiveness of those sins. Jesus, of course, was the sinless one, the spotless Lamb of God. However, after thirty years of schooling in the Spirit, and spending nights all alone listening to the Father, he was ready to take on his mission. John was shocked when Jesus showed up at the Jordan river, and he protested that it was Jesus who should be baptising him, rather than the other way around. Jesus spoke quietly and firmly to John, in such a way that John realised that there was a special reason for this, even if he didn't understand. Jesus told him that he would understand at a later time.
And so Jesus went down into the river with the burden of ALL of our sins on his shoulders. The burden would have been too much for him, did not the Father and the Spirit come to his rescue. "As soon as he was baptised, Jesus came up from the water, and he saw the Spirit of God come down like a dove and rest on him. At the same time a voice from heaven said 'This is My Son, the Beloved; he is My Chosen One'". Jesus came up out of that river with the power of God within, and the burden of human weaknesses on his shoulders. His life would clearly show that the power of God could overcome all of our human weaknesses, with particular reference to sin, sickness, and death. These were not part of God's creation.
Jesus told a story about a farmer who sowed good wheat in his field. When the wheat came up, the servants noticed that weeds began to appear as well. They went to the farmer and asked him "Was that not good wheat that you sowed in that field? Where did the weeds come from?" "An enemy(the name Satan means enemy) has done this". "Do you want us to pull up the weeds?" the servants asked. "Oh no", said the farmer. "I will do that myself, because, in pulling up the weeds, you might pull up the wheat as well". Jesus came to remove those weeds because we could not do this ourselves. I never believe that I could do much about sickness and death, but, part of my earlier understanding of the spiritual journey was that I was responsible for removing all of the other weeds. We were provided with many instruments that were supposed to do just that, like the Particular Examen, penances, fasting, and other forms of self-denial. Even the word 'self-denial' is suspect because it includes that word 'denial'. Thank God those things didn't work, because we all would have been perfect by our thirtieth birthday!
As soon as Jesus was baptised he headed out into the desert, where Satan was waiting to test him. Up till now Satan had a free run. Jesus called him "The Prince of this world". He brought Jesus up to a high mountain and offered him the kingdoms of the earth if he would adore him. Those kingdoms were Satan's to give, before Jesus came to set up his Kingdom, and to proclaim his victory over the kingdom of Satan. Jesus declared war on the kingdom of Satan, and, whenever he came across a person in Satan's control, he released that person. Satan did everything within his power to thwart the plans of Jesus. He even proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, in the hope that this would cause a riot, and things might get out of control. When Jesus set his face towards Calvary, Peter tried to persuade him not to go; but Jesus recognised that Peter was only being used, and he said "Get behind me, Satan!"
Jesus made it abundantly clear that he came in search of the lost, and all those who knew they could never make it alone. The stories he used are poignant and beautiful. He was a brilliant teacher, who brought people from the known to the unknown. His listeners were all familiar with sheep and shepherds, and how they interrelated with each other. If a man had one hundred sheep and one went astray, he would leave the ninety-nine, search for the lost one; and when he finds it, he brings it back to the flock with great joy. Jesus said that he came for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. He said he had a mission to accomplish, and he could never be at peace until it was completed. He made it very clear, again and again, that he came to save, and not to condemn. His treatment of the woman about to be stoned to death is very touching. When Jesus was surrounded by Pharisees in one of their houses, another such woman was so sure of his acceptance that she walked right in front of everyone, and knelt at his feet, and began crying. That caused some stir among the on-lookers, but Jesus used the occasion to great advantage, clearly showing, once again, the whole purpose of his mission.
To understand the extraordinary nature of such an event, one would have to see it through the eyes of those who watched on. They were totally shell-shocked. It was unthinkable what Jesus was allowing to happen to him. He couldn't possibly be a prophet, because a prophet would know what kind of woman she was, and would have nothing whatever to do with her. In fact, it is true to say that the woman herself would have nothing to do with prophets, because she had good reason to fear them, and anybody that represented them.
If Jesus were on this earth for three minutes, instead of thirty-three years, he could have summarised his whole message in the Story of the Prodigal Son. There are three significant persons in the story, the Prodigal, his begrudging jealous brother, and the forgiving father. Any one of us can be the Prodigal or his brother at different times in our lives, and Jesus is calling us to become the Forgiving Father. The Father's role is to reconcile the two elements within all of us, the sinner and the self-righteous. Guilt is not from God. Satan is called "the accuser of our brothers. He accuses them day and night before our God." To err is human, and to forgive is divine. Right up to his last breath Jesus was there with total forgiveness. It is never too late for God. One of those crucified with him may never have turned to God in his life, but, right there, he asked for help, and was promised heaven that very day. "Something beautiful, something good; all my confusion he understood. All I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, but he made something beautiful of my life."
This man was in jail, awaiting execution. It was in a place where executions were carried out in public. One morning he heard people gather in the square above. The noise grew louder as the numbers increased, and the man had good reason to think that his day had come. His name was Barabbas; his trial was a showpiece, and his death was inevitable. As the noisy crowd gathered, he crouched in a corner, waiting for the steps of the soldiers coming to get him. The noise above increased, and there was much shouting. This went on for some long time. Finally, as far as he could make out, the crowd seemed to have moved away. There was silence. Then he heard the footsteps. So it was his day after all.
The door was opened, and two soldiers stood in the doorway. One of them beckoned, and said "Ok, get out of here!". Barabbas didn't move. "Get out of here and go home", one of them roared at him. There was no way that Barabbas was prepared to move, because he was convinced it would be a case of 'being shot while trying to escape'. One of the soldiers grabbed a hold of him, dragged him through the open door, and dropped him there. Then they both walked away. When Barabbas felt it was safe to do so, he slipped over behind a wall nearby. He crouched down and waited for the slightest sound. Eventually, he heard voices. He peeped over the wall, and saw people make their way back from the country. He kept out of slight, only venturing the occasional peep around the side of the wall.
Finally, he saw someone he knew, and he called him in a whisper. The man came towards him, and joined Barabbas behind the wall. The man was amazed that Barabbas hadn't been told what had happened. He persuaded Barabbas that it was quite safe for him to walk in public again, because he was now a free man. He brought Barabbas out the country, and showed him three crosses on a distant hill. "Do you see that middle cross?" he asked. "Well, that was the one intended for you. But that man Jesus, he took your place, and you are now free; so, if you take my advice, get out of here while the going is good." Thank you, Jesus.
E-mail this article to a friend
Insights That Inspired Me copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.