Like most of us who grew up going to a Catholic school, I could easily answer the question: Why did Christ die on the Cross? Like every child from preschool on, I would easily parrot back – To forgive our sins. It was an answer I knew by heart, but never really understood.
Until recently, when I read Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s TheDivine Romance.
Originally published in 1930, Sheen’s work is timeless, and there are many ideas about the Church in Western Culture that one would think were prophetic, as they seem to address the trials She is currently going through in the early Twenty-First Century. Although thought provoking and worthy of much discussion, this will have to wait for another day.
As we approached Holy Week, what really struck my heart was how Sheen explained why it had to be Christ, and only Christ who could pay the debt of humanity’s sins on the Cross. Venerable Sheen based his explanation on the two-fold notion of a sin’s gravity being based on the one sinned against, while the honour of the repayment must be tied to the one make the atonement.
Let me explain…
Any insult is offensive, but the severity of the insult lies with the one who is insulted. Let’s take the insult of pie-ing someone in the face for example. If I were to pie my boss in the face, I may get a few days off without pay, or possibly even fired. If I were to pie the mayor in the face, I may spend a night in jail and receive a fine. If a Member of Parliament (or Congressman) were my target, the jail time and fine would probably be a bit higher, while if it were the Prime Minister (or President), I could expect to cool my heels in a jail cell for a longer stretch, and when I got out, I’d spend a few years working to pay back whatever fine the judge found fitting.
The point to all this is to understand that the penalty for an offence is directly linked to the one offended (a student once paid a 25-cents to pie me in the face, and they were heralded as a hero of the student body). If the penalty for the offence of pie-ing someone in the face grows according to their importance in society, how much greater when the one offended through sin is God.
The Honour of Atonement
The more distinguished the title one bears, the loftier the honour their gift can bestow. Traditionally, one will receive recognition from public dignitaries for achieving special milestones; for example a 50th Wedding Anniversary or a 100th Birthday. A certificate from the mayor may be framed and then lost in a drawer. The form letter from the Member of Parliament (or Congressman) could take pride of place on the mantle. A personally signed note from the Prime Minister (or President) will most likely hang proudly on the wall. The most cherished of all (at least in our home) would be a letter of Apostolic Blessing from the Holy Father in the Vatican.
The higher in stature the one giving the gift, the greater honour the gift bestows on the one receiving it. If we would give such pride of place to the gifts given to us by human dignitaries, how much greater is the gift given by our infinite God through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ?
Sin is offensive! Since sin offends God, and our God is infinite; then logically one realizes that gravity of sin’s weight is also infinite. If the weight of our sin is infinite, then it will require the honour of an infinite sacrifice to make atonement for this sin.
Out of pity for His creation, out of His love for humanity, God in His great mercy offered His Son to come down from heaven and pay the infinite price to forgive our infinite sinfulness. No one but the Messiah could make this payment; the price is too great. It is through Christ’s great sacrifice on the Cross and through His resurrection, that the death of sin could be conquered and the doors opened to eternal life in heaven.
This is why on Good Friday I weep, knowing that Jesus paid the price for the debt that I incurred.