Jesus Suffered For Our Sake

FR. KENNETH BAKER, S.J.

After affirming the divinity of Jesus Christ by stating that he is the Son of God and equal to the Father, the Nicene Creed turns, with a few quick, deft strokes, to his passion and death.

It is remarkable that the Creed says nothing about the private and public life of Jesus. It passes over his miracles, his prophecies and his profound teachings about God and man.

The last day in Jesus' earthy existence is summed up in the words: "For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried."

In the previous sentence the Creed proclaimed: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven." As if to drive this point home, the Creed prefaces its short account of the passion by reminding us that Jesus suffered, not for himself, but "for our sake". Sinless as he was, there was no need for him to be crucified in order to save himself. He did not need redemption. We are the sinful ones who are desperately dependent upon a savior.

By mentioning the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the Creed clearly locates the passion and death of Jesus in human history. We are not dealing here with some philosophical theory that could happen anywhere anytime. Pilate was governor of Judea in Palestine about the year 30 A.D. That is a fact that can be established by profane history. Jesus, therefore, being a member of the Jewish race, was put to death under this Roman official in Palestine.

Crucifixion was the most severe form of capital punishment in Roman law. It was considered so degrading that it could not be applied in the case of Roman citizens. It was reserved for slaves, robbers and brigands. Jesus had foretold what kind of death he would die when he said: "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all things to myself" (Jn 12:32). Crucifixion, certainly, was a most severe form of suffering, followed by a sure death.

To suffer means to endure some form of harm. Since man is spirit in a material body, he can suffer both in his soul and his body. Thus when Jesus suffered rejection, ridicule, betrayal of Judas, scourging, the crowning of thorns, he endured harm in both body and soul. He was able to do this because, in assuming our human nature, he took upon himself all those defects that are common to man, such as subjection to hunger, thirst, weariness and physical violence of all kinds. However, since Jesus enjoyed the immediate vision of God in his soul, he did not share in the defects of our soul, such as sin and ignorance.

"Suffering" is a bad word for most of us. We would rather not hear the word. We don't like to think about what it means. And we shun the reality in any way we can. Just think of the billions of white, red, green and blue pills that are sold each year in this country. Most of them were devised to help people avoid suffering. Yet the Creed says simply of Jesus: "He suffered."

The major difference between the suffering of Jesus and our suffering is that he freely willed and accepted it. By freely assuming our human nature, Jesus accepted everything that goes with it, sin alone excepted. We weak human beings are not able to control the forces of nature. Hence, we are subject to suffering of all kinds because we cannot control the world around us. Jesus' situation was different. With his divine knowledge he knew everything. With his divine power he was capable of warding off any threat. Note what he said in Gethsemane: "Do you think I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Mt 26:53).

We should ask ourselves why Jesus suffered. The answer is: for our sake. Because of the first sin of Adam we were cut off from the life of grace, excluded from heaven and condemned to die. Jesus took it upon himself to make satisfaction for us and so to pour out the grace of God upon us. It was part of the mysterious plan of God, hidden from all eternity, that this should be accomplished by the suffering and death of the Christ, the "man of sorrows" (Is 53:3).

See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Kenneth Baker, S.J. "Jesus Suffered For Our Sake." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter 20 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 64-66.

This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.

THE AUTHOR

Rev. Kenneth Baker, S.J., has served for the past thirty years as editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1947. In 1970 he served as president of Seattle University and in 1971 became editor of the Homiletic & Pastoral Review. In 1973 he published his translation of the Philosophical Dictionary and adapted it to American usage. In 1975 he became president of Catholic Views Broadcasts, Inc., which produces a weekly 15-minute radio program that airs on 50 stations across the United States. He has built and run three community television stations. In 1983 he published a three-volume explation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, Eschatology.

Copyright 1995 Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.


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