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Jesus Christ, the Savior

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We are speaking on the theme of the redemption and we have so far seen that from the first chapters of Genesis, all through the Old Testament the chosen people were looking forward to a Redeemer. We also saw that sadly there were two kinds of messiah that the Jews expected. The one who would save His people from political oppression, material poverty, and one who would save His people from their sins. We know what happened. The real messiah came. Most of His own people having looked for a different Savior, rejected Jesus Christ. Our present reflections therefore are on Jesus Christ the Savior.

As we turn to the New Testament, the first most striking feature of its teaching from the beginning of Matthew all through the whole Old Testament scriptures is an unquestionable faith that Jesus is really the Savior whom the prophets had foretold. Let’s make sure we don’t underestimate the importance of that underlying act of faith. The father of John the Baptist on the day of his son’s birth sang the Benedictus. In which he declared that the child in Mary’s womb was the answer to centuries of Jewish prayers. His own child was to be the forerunner of the messiah. I don’t think I have to apologize in this context for quoting the Benedictus in full. Luke tells us that Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy.

He was not only glorifying God for what had already taken place; he was also foretelling what would take place, including our day. There is only one mistake we can make and that is to look for the wrong messiah. Said Zachary,

“Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel. For He has visited His people, He has come to their rescue and He has raised up for us a power for salvation in the house of His servant David. Even as He proclaimed by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times that He would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us. Thus He shows mercy to our ancestors. Thus He remembers His holy covenant. The oath He swore to our father Abraham. That He would grant us free from fear to be delivered from the hands of our enemies. To serve Him in holiness and virtue…”

That’s the key to the Benedictus,

“In His presence all our days. And you little child, you shall be called prophet of the Most High. For you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for Him. To give His people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”

That’s the key.

“This by the tender mercy of our God, Who from on high will bring the rising sun to visit us. To give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Even therefore, before Christ’s birth the Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that the followers of Jesus would have no illusions of what kind of a Savior He was to be. To make doubly sure, Joseph as we know was kept in the dark about Mary’s role in salvation history. Finally when it became too obvious the angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “you must name Him Jesus, because He will save His people” From what? From their sins, that’s the kind of Savior we believe in. But the Holy Spirit wasn’t satisfied yet. On Christmas morning when the angel appeared to the shepherds, he announced that on this day in David’s city a Savior has been born to you: The Messiah and Lord. He is Savior all right, but not to save the shepherds from their poverty.

No wonder, no wonder we should be living in that period of history, the twentieth century, when the most powerful force opposing the True Savior should be organized, should raise armies, and by now is controlling over one third of the population of the human race. Everyone, everyone is looking for a Savior. Everyone wants to be delivered. Everyone wants to be liberated. The question is from what does a person want to be liberated? Is it from the sufferings and trials and drudgery and labor and pain of this world? Or is it deliverance from sin? That is a radical difference between Christianity and Communism. And believe me, I know Communism well. First prayer book mine, was in Russian script. Began reading Lenin, I shouldn’t have, but I did, at the age of fourteen.

Forty days after Christ’s birth at His presentation in the Temple first the aged Simeon praised God in the Nunc Dimitus declaring “my eyes have witnessed Your saving deed.” Savior, salvation, keeps recurring. And then Anna is said to have given thanks to God and told everybody who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem about the child who had just been born. As Christ reached manhood and was about to begin His ministry, John the Baptist went about the entire region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins. That’s it. Luke explains by saying that Baptist’s mission, John the Baptist’s mission had been foretold by Isaiah promising, quote, “that all mankind shall see the salvation of God.” This is not playing with words. This is not a lesson in rhetoric. Let’s make sure that we have no doubt from what Jesus Christ is our Savior. In Christ’s first sermon at Nazareth, remember how He began? He said “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me therefore He has anointed me to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery and sight to the blind and release to prisoners.” Then He startled the audience. Of all places to be giving this speech. At Nazareth after He read Isaiah, Christ had the, what shall we say, the courage? Or the Nazarenes thought the gall, to say that Isaiah was being fulfilled before their eyes. Isaiah foretold a messiah who would deliver His people from their sins. Do you know what happened? The people of Nazareth didn’t give Christ a chance even to finish. Who does He think He is? The messiah we’re looking for is not, as they thought a poor carpenter’s son. So Luke says, they were ready to drag Him out of the synagogue and brought Him to the brow of a hill to kill Him. Miraculously He escaped from their hands.

I don’t know how long this meditation will last. I know what notes I’ve got in front of me. I know what message I mainly want to get across. The message is to have no doubt who is the true messiah. From His opening sermon at Nazareth where His fellow townsmen just couldn’t imagine that He was the Savior foretold by the prophets and tried to kill Him before He even started His public ministry. The evangelists go on one sermon after another, one miracle after another, one event after another. All have as their underlying message, the vindication of Jesus’ name, which is Savior. What needs to be stressed however, is that all through Christ’s preaching and as the Gospels tell us, doing good among the people, these people were plagued with a double image of the messiah that the Jews had had for centuries. Pre-Christian Judaism was schizophrenic. Am I clear? They had two concepts of the messiah to come. Only a fraction of the Jews ever resolved the dilemma. Or more accurately, only one segment of Israel decided in favor of a Redeemer who came to save not only the Jews but all mankind: and not from any earthly bondage, but from sin. Another and larger number, in fact the majority of the chosen people resolved the dilemma by opting for a political liberator who would conquer the enemies of the Jews and establish a kingdom of prosperity on earth. To the very end of His mortal life, Jesus was a stumbling block to His own people when they refused to see in Him the messiah foretold by the prophets. As He stood on trial before the Sanhedrin, He was asked to tell us, “tell us,” he said, “are you the messiah?” Jesus replied that if He answered in the affirmative the elders, priests and the scribes would not believe Him. Instead He said that He would be seated at the right hand of the power of God. And when they pressed Him, “What are you saying, are you telling us that you are the Son of God?” He didn’t deny it. Even as Christ was hanging on the cross, His enemies came back to the same basic accusation. Before we finish this meditation I promise you, you will better understand why I am spending so much time in talking about the Jews who misunderstood the real messiah when He came: Jesus in His passion, hanging on the cross and bleeding to death. Jesus had claimed to be the messiah. But as far as those who did Him to death were concerned, He was an imposter. He even dared to forgive sins. Which as they told each other, no one but God can do. As He expired on Calvary, the leaders of the Jews kept jeering at Him saying, “He saved others, let Him save Himself. If He is the messiah of God, the chosen one.” Is the point getting clearer? The Jews who crucified Christ were looking for a messiah. The trouble was that when Jesus came into the world He disappointed His own people. The messiah they were looking for was not the one that Jesus Christ turned out to be.

Now we get closer to the hub of the issue. There is no single thesis taught by the gospels that is more forcefully expressed than this one. Jesus was crucified by His own people; instigated by their leaders, why? I make no pretense that by beating the air with syllables what the Holy Spirit wants you to learn, you will learn. For there is nothing more important for us to know than why Jesus was crucified. He was crucified because according to those who condemned Him, He falsely claimed to be what they were convinced He was not. The Savior of Israel and the Redeemer of mankind, from what…from sin. Let me tell you, Christ will mean in your life, and in mine, what He should mean. Only in the measure and the degree that you and I are convinced that we are sinners and need to be redeemed. And all the speechifying and theologizing are useless. Unless and no one, no one can convince you of this, except the Holy Spirit, if your heart humbly and honestly tells God, “Lord I am not asking to be delivered from suffering or pain. I’ve got it coming. I’m a sinner. You are my Jesus because I need to be redeemed.” After Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into Heaven. Go back and re-read that first sermon on Pentecost Sunday. By now I’ve told hundreds of priests whom I’ve taught theology. Memorize Peter’s sermon as recorded by Saint Luke. It is the model for all sermons until the end of time. Peter ended His homily by telling this startled crowd of Jews, quote, “let the whole house of Israel know beyond any doubt that God has made both Lord and Messiah this Jesus whom you have crucified.” In proof of Jesus’ claim to being the true Messiah, the real Redeemer, saving people not, not from suffering in this world. But from suffering in the world to come for unforgiven sin. Christ allowed Himself to be killed and then to prove that the world was really redeemed He rose glorious from the grave. We know what happened on hearing this, the Jews listening to Peter, were deeply shaken. As well they might be. So they asked what must we do?” Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you. In the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children. And for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call.” I am saying these words because I believe them. You are listening to them because you believe them.

We can now come to the end of our meditation. Remember we’ve been talking about redemption. As often as we use the word Gospel, or it’s more understandable equivalent “Good News”, it is well to remind ourselves, what is good about this good news. What is good about the gospel, is that we sinners can look forward with hope to a happy eternity because God came among us and died on the cross to save us. Let’s make sure we know that prepositional phrase, came to save us from our sins.

I’m almost finished but not quite. There is one more reflection I’d like to make. As Christianity spread throughout the world, the fact that Jesus’ right to the title of Redeemer was accepted by all who call themselves Christians. But sadly, though not surprisingly, soon enough there arose different even contradictory interpretations of what Christ’s redemption really means. By now, literally scores, even hundreds of explanations have been given which are more or less contrary to what the Catholic Church from apostolic times to the present has been teaching. The most fundamental of these adverse positions contradicting the Truth is the claim that because Christ redeemed His people, those who He chose to save will be saved. They are predestined. All others will be lost. Implied in this position is the denial of human freedom. Which means the denial that we can either cooperate with God’s grace or resist it. The Catholic Church teaches otherwise. Like Peter, the first pope, who told the Jews to repent, Peter’s successors have been saying the same thing. Of course Christ is the redeemer. Of course His blood has merited our salvation. But we must voluntarily do our part. We must want to repent and continue repenting. We must want to pay the price of repentance. Dear Lord, I hope my words will be understood. We must want to pay the price of repentance. Which is the cross. Otherwise is it possible for Christ to have died in vain? Yes. Acknowledging that we have sinned resigning ourselves here and now for the rest of our days to whatever sufferings or trials in body or spirit that the loving God may wish to send us. Welcoming from His hands the cross that He became man to carry before us. The redemption that began on Calvary will be completed in eternity. Where those, please God, all of us, will have admitted our sinfulness. And we’ll willingly, even lovingly accept the price of our sins. Heaven is mainly reserved for repentant sinners for whom Christ died on the cross.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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