Jesus Christ is the Son of Man who died for all. He is the One who voluntarily perished so that all could live, thrive and flourish—not just for a time, but forever and ever.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
13 April 2019
It’s really interesting how some people in Jesus’ time unintentionally uttered prophecies in his favor—even though they were his enemies. One well known example is Pilate, the Roman governor, who had a sign fashioned and nailed to the vertical post of Jesus’ cross. The sign was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and stated, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Mt 27:37) or equivalently, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).
In our gospel today (Jn 11:45-56), it is the high priest Caiaphas who unwittingly utters a prophecy about Jesus. The background is that some of the Pharisees, chief priests and the Sanhedrin began to plan Jesus’ death. They feared if they let Jesus continue unopposed, the people would believe in him and follow him en mass, which would result in an uprising and subsequent Roman attack. Consequently, the Jews would be crushed. This very thing happened in AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. But it did not happen because of what Jesus taught or because people followed him. It happened because of the lack of faith of the Jews and their rejection of Jesus and his teaching. It happened because people did not follow him.
Given this threat the leaders of the Jews saw in Jesus, they convene to plot against him. During their meeting, the high priest Caiaphas unwittingly gives this prophecy: “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” Caiaphas was, of course, thinking that it would be better for Jesus to be murdered than for the Jews as a nation to perish at the hands of Rome. St. John informs us about the unintended but true meaning in Caiaphas’s words:
“He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”
Jesus was going to die to gather us, his dispersed children, together into the Church, as members of his body, as adopted sons and daughters of God. This he did by virtue of his saving passion, death and resurrection, what we refer to as the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
By our Lord’s death on the cross, humankind is redeemed. But that does not mean everyone is saved. The salvation of each person is another question.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters often like to ask, “Are you saved?” This question is usually asked in terms of a “once and for all saved” understanding of salvation, otherwise known as the doctrine of eternal security. However, the idea that a person is definitively and forever saved once he comes to a position of faith in Christ as one’s personal savior doesn’t harmonize with scripture, nor has it ever been the belief of the Church. I don’t want to get mired in the details here, but the Catholic response is usually—or should be—something like this:
I was saved by virtue of repentance and baptism, I am being saved by my faith in Christ as Lord and Savior and my daily cooperation with his grace, and I hope to be saved provided I persevere in faith until the end and die in a state of grace and in God’s friendship. This response speaks of salvation in three tenses: the past, the present, and the future. There cannot be absolute assurance of an individual’s salvation in the future because there always remains in this life the possibility of falling into mortal sin and losing sanctifying grace.
But back to Caiaphas’ unintended prophecy. Jesus is the one man who himself chose to die so that everybody else didn’t have to. By his passion, death and resurrection, he has defeated the ultimate power of sin and evil, as well as the devil. Jesus has paid the price for sin, he has redeemed humankind and has done what no mere man had the power to do. We are redeemed by the Redeemer.
But not everyone is saved. Salvation is another question. Jesus opened the way to salvation, but he does not automatically save everyone without their consent. That is, we must consent to the salvation Jesus offers by appropriating his gift of eternal life to our own lives. This is done by repentance, baptism, living the life of faith and public worship, cooperating with the grace of Christ, and remaining in a state of grace to the very end. If we should fall into mortal sin, the remedy is the sacrament of Penance (confession), through which sanctifying grace is once again restored. If we die a rebel, without sanctifying grace (in a state of mortal sin), we die an eternal death.
It is necessary to entrust ourselves to Christ and enter into an intimate, personal relationship of communion with him. This begins with baptism. It continues with Confirmation. It reaches its culmination when we attend Mass and receive the Eucharist in a state of grace. At that moment, we receive Christ in the most intimate way possible here below, since the Eucharist is his body, blood soul and divinity, present sacramentally under the signs of consecrated bread and wine.
Do we really believe in Jesus Christ or not? That’s the central question in our lives. Everything turns on the answer. Because if our Christian faith really grounds and organizes our lives, then we have no reason to fear, and we have every reason to hope.Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, March 27, 2019
Do we really believe in Jesus Christ and live out that belief as a faithful Catholic and Christian, entrusting ourself entirely to him? Or are we a part-time believer, an intellectual-only adherent, an absentee Catholic, a cafeteria-Catholic, or someone who actually follows their own brand of religion under the name of “christian”? Again, do we really believe in Jesus?
Is Jesus central in your life? Do you love him enough to die for him? Do you love him enough to replace comfort with sacrifice?
Do you really know and love Jesus?
That is the great question. It’s especially important for the upcoming Holy Week as we move toward Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of the Lord.
It’s the question everyone must answer before it’s too late.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.