Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

(Homily for Good Friday)

Many people have told me that Lent and Holy Week this year have been special because of the Passion movie. It has caused some to ask the question, why did Jesus have to die? Or more bluntly, who killed Jesus?

On one level the answer is simple. The only person in Jerusalem who had authority to condemn a man to capital punishment was the Roman Procurator. For that reason in the creed we say that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

However, we also know that the Jewish authorities requested, perhaps even demanded Jesus death. That does not mean all Jews in Jerusalem wanted Jesus to die. Jesus himself was a Jew, as was his Blessed Mother. All the apostles, Simon of Cyrene, Veronica and many others who supported Jesus were Jews. In addition, some Jewish authorities (the Gospel we just heard mentions Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus) defended Jesus at great personal risk.

But when we ask, Who killed Jesus?, there is a deeper question that we do not like to face. Throughout history people have tried to shift the blame. They wanted to make all Jewish people guilty in a way which would absolve them. This is called anti-Semitism and, as Pope John Paul II, has pointed out; it is one of the gravest sins of the last two thousand years. We cannot shift the blame to the Jews or single out any group. The Church has always taught that Jesus died for us men and for our salvation. The answer to the question, Who Killed Jesus?, is I did and you did. Jesus died for our sins.

Christians in our country and throughout the world seem to have finally gotten that message. Before The Passion was released, some commentators were afraid the movie would provoke anger, even violence, against the Jews. That has not happened. In spite of the dire predictions, the body count is zero. And, as someone noted, it is doubling every day!

What the movie has done is to cause people to repent of their own sins. I saw it first time with our RCIA group. Like most of the people we remained in the auditorium in silence. It helped us see Jesus great love and our own sinfulness.

Newspapers have reported dramatic conversions. A twenty-year-old, who had committed several robberies, saw the movie and turned himself into the police. A man who had murdered someone, confessed his crime. A Norwegian neo-Nazi named Johnny Olsen, after watching the Passion, admitted to bombings he had done in the 90s. You and I may not have done things so notorious, but we know the truth. Our sins put Jesus on the cross.*

The reason people repent is not because of fear, but because of the love they see in Jesus. Love requires sacrifice. We all know that. If something is easy, it may well be an act of love, but a small one. However, if something is difficult, if it requires great sacrifice, then we recognize it as a large act of love.

I saw an instance of sacrificial love when I was a seminarian home on vacation. I needed a car to attend a gathering. My dad had just purchased a new car. It was his pride and joy. I asked him, Pa, can I borrow the car? I could see a look of anguish on his face. He could have mentioned to me the time I put a dent in his other car, but he did not. Instead he said, OK, here are the keys. Drive carefully. It was an act of great love because it involved considerable sacrifice.

Jesus showed the greatest act of love because his sacrifice was the greatest. Remember that he is God. If he had suffered only a pin prick, it would be greater than any other human sacrifice. But he did much more. He wanted to graphically show us the depths of divine love. For that reason, he accepted the most humiliating and degrading death that had ever been devised.

In a few moments, after we make say the special Good Friday intercessions, Deacon Ted will bring forward the cross. As we venerate the sacred cross, we remember the great love which Jesus has for each one of us.

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*As George Weigel brings out, this is the longstanding Christian teaching:

The settled teaching of the Catholic Church which does not date from the Second Vatican Council but was vigorously expressed by, among others, the 16th century Council of Trent is that the sinfulness of all humanity was the cause of the death of Christ.

Nevertheless, the Second Vatican Council does have a forceful assertion which we need to reflect on, especially during Holy Week:

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone. NOSTRA AETATE #4

Earlier Version

Spanish Version

From Archives:

2010 Good Friday Homily: Do Not Waste Your Suffering
2009: He Learned Obedience
2008: According to Your Word
2007: He Took Our Suffering to Himself
2006: The Hour of Divine Mercy
2005: The Conversion of Barabbas
2004: Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
2003: The Host
2002: Testimony of Bishop Dolli
2001: Blood From His Side
2000: Vicarious Suffering
1999: Old Testament Fulfilled
1998: He took our place

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Holy Week, Sharon & Unborn Victims of Violence Act, Seeing The Passion a Second Time)

From Fr. Frank Pavone: You Wouldn't Even Ask:

If a candidate who supported terrorism asked for your vote, would you say, "I disagree with you on terrorism, but where do you stand on other issues?" I doubt it.

...Such a position makes no sense whatsoever, unless one is completely blind to the violence of abortion. That, of course, is the problem. But we need only see what abortion looks like, or read descriptions from the abortionists themselves, and the evidence is clear. (USA Today refused to sell me space for an ad that quoted abortionists describing their work because the readers would be traumatized just by the words!)

Passion Play by Holy Family Youth Group

The Scandal no one talks about

Kerry's Annulment

St. Mary of the Valley Album

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