Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Meaning of Life, Part 20

Let me state this boldly and succinctly: Jesus did not die for your sins or for my sins.

That proclamation is theological nonsense. It only breeds more violence, as we seek to justify the negativity that religious people dump on others because we can no longer carry its load. We must rid ourselves of it. One can hardly refrain from exhorting parents not to spare the rod lest they spoil the child, if the portrait of God at the heart of the Christian story is that of an angry parent who punishes the divine Son because he can take it and we cannot.

The interpretation of Jesus as the sacrificed victim is a human creation. It was shaped in a first-century world by the disciples of Jesus, who drew on their Jewish liturgical symbols as a way the Crucifixion might be understood. They borrowed this understanding directly from the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, in which an innocent lamb was slaughtered to pay the price for the sins of the people. The sinful people then had the cleansing blood of that sacrificial lamb sprinkled on them.

We are not fallen, sinful people who deserve to be punished. We are frightened, insecure people who have achieved the enormous breakthrough into self-consciousness that marks no other creature that has yet emerged from the evolutionary cycle. We must not denigrate the human being who ate of the tree of knowledge in the Genesis story. We must learn rather to celebrate the creative leap into a higher humanity. Our sense of separation and aloneness is not a mark of our sin. It is a symbol of our glory. Our struggle to survive ... (our) radical self-centeredness, is not the result of original sin. It is a sign of emerging consciousness. It should not be a source of guilt. It is a source of blessing. We do not need to be punished. We need to be called and empowered to be more deeply and fully human and to develop the godlike gift of being able to give ourselves away freely in the quest for an even deeper sense of what it means to live. Jesus did not die for our sins. Jesus demonstrated in an ultimate way that it is by giving that we receive and by loving that we enhance life.

John Shelby Spong, Catholic New Times