Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
— Mark 15:34
In contrast to church teaching, there is actually nothing in the four gospels about Jesus dying for our sins.1 Such a theology undermines God's love and reduces Jesus to a mere pawn in some vindictive power game. Happily more and more of the faithful are rejecting this concept. This passage alone tells a very different story. Here we see Jesus deserted by his friends, lonely and terrified; we see a very human Jesus believing that God has deserted him. This is not accidental. How could it be? Mark clearly describes a man who has done his utmost to bring about change, and has failed, has been betrayed by his friends, mocked by his enemies, and crucified on a cross—the cruelest of punishments reserved only for traitors to the empire, men considered dangerous revolutionaries. Jesus was a man, a prophet, a revolutionary, one with the bravery to confront the system, not with violence as was common with other revolutionaries at the time, but with peace, with love and kindness. He didn't stand a chance.
Jesus did not die for our sins. Jesus died because of our sins. Jesus died because of our sins of indifference, jealousy, and exclusion. Jesus died because of our sins of self righteousness, selfcenteredness, and selfishness. And Jesus died because of our sins of hatred, revenge, and war. Jesus looked hatred in the face and preached love. Jesus looked revenge in the face and preached forgiveness. And Jesus looked war in the face and preached peace. And they killed him. Not because God demanded a human sacrifice for our sins. But because you can't go against the powers that be and live to tell about it.2
For thousands of years people have talked of the second coming of Jesus. But I wonder, would his second coming be different to the first? We are as sinful a world as the world was then—maybe more so. When people speak truth to power they tend to die. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr was Jesus incarnate. His story was similar, his death almost identical—both men were assassinated by the state.3 You cannot criticise the system to the extent they each did and expect to live.
1 The satisfaction theory of atonement (or substitutionary atonement) was introduced by Anselm around 1,000 years after Jesus's death. It was developed into the penal substitution theory we know today by Luther and later the Calvinists. For centuries it was used as a threat, a guilt trip for children and those not in compliance with the church leaders. It is high time for a theological rethink, going back to actual scripture, and this is what many today are taking on. I thank them.
2 Jesus Did Not Die For Our Sins, by Rev. Bill Freeman, Menifee United Church of Christ, 20/03/2016
See also this sermon, Jesus Died Because of Our Sins, Not For Them, Richard A. Rhem, Christ Community Church, Spring Lake, Michigan, 04/04/1993
3 "After four weeks of testimony and over 70 witnesses in a civil trial in Memphis, Tennessee, twelve jurors reached a swift unanimous verdict on December 8, 1999 that Dr. King was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy, the NY Times reported at the time." from Did You Know? US Gov't Found Guilty In Conspiracy To Assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kirsten West Savali, NewsOne, 18/01/2021. The full transcript of the 1999 trial can be viewed here.