Sunday, 18 October 2015
Ransom for Sinners, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Today all our Scripture readings focus us on the death of Christ, He who died for our sins.
Our first reading gave us a short excerpt from the lengthy ‘Suffering Servant’ prophecy of Isaiah. That prophecy refers to the “man of sorrows” (Isa 53:3) who takes our trials upon Himself, who “offers His life in atonement”(Isa 53:10), and, “By His sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on Himself”(Isa 53:11).
And in the Gospel, the Lord Jesus referred to His coming death as being “a ransom for many”(Mk 10:45), or “redemption for many”, translating the Greek “lytron anti pollon”.
A “ransom” –this might seem an odd word to use, but if we ponder it, it tells us much about ourselves, and much about God.
The word “redemption” that we use in English comes from the Latin redemptio, which renders the “Hebrew kopher and Greek lytron which, in the Old Testament means generally a ransom-price”(Catholic Encyclopedia, Redemption).
What this tells us, what the Lord is telling us in saying that He is our “ransom”, is that we are in NEED of being “ransomed”. We are being held in “captivity”(CCC 407; Council of Trent), we are in “slavery to sin”(CCC 601 c.f. Jn 8:34), and a debt needs to be paid to set us free.
Theologians debate about WHO this debt must be paid to. Jesus is paying a debt, but paying it to whom?
Is it being paid to the Devil, since sin means the world is under his “domination” (CCC 407; Council of Florence (cited in www.newadvent.org/cathen/12677d.htm)) and we are his “captives”? No. God is all powerful and does not NEED to pay Satan anything.
The debt God is paying, it would seem, is being paid to Himself: to His justice, to His honour.
A debt is owed, a payment must be made, and so He steps in and makes the payment to Himself.
If this debt involves the DEATH of Christ, in suffering on the Cross, then the payment must be for something COLOSSAL, namely, our sins.
Our sins against the infinite and Almighty God cause an infinite offence, a dishonour that we finite creatures cannot pay. Our sins “are punishable by death”(CCC 602 c.f. Rom 5:12, 1Cor 15:56).
The Lord did not NEED to save us by paying this debt, but it was FITTING that honour be remedied. Only an infinite person could pay an infinite debt (ST III q1 a2 ad2um), and so God came from Heaven to earth to pay this debt, a debt He essentially pays to Himself.
He didn’t NEED to pay, but it was “fitting”(Heb 7:26) that honour be satisfied, and so He did.
It is easy for us to forget all this because, as all the recent popes have repeated, we live in an era that has lost its “sense of sin”.
We live in a world where people think of themselves as independent, not as dependent on God. And we forget that actually our whole lives BELONG to HIM. He has given us everything, and yet we so frequently behave as if He was hardly there. And so, every neglect, every indifference, every lack of love, every transgression of His commandments, all racks up a debt we cannot pay.
And if we say this somehow doesn’t apply to us, that you are I are “decent” people not “sinners”, then why does the Lord repeatedly say in the Scriptures that He came to die for us? He claims that we need saving from our sins. And so, as Scripture says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar”(1 Jn 1:10)
So, what this talk of “ransom” tells us about ourselves is: Our SINS have racked up a debt.
And, what this talk of “ransom” tells us about God is: He loves us so much that He has come to pay this debt Himself.
To close by quoting our second reading: Christ has come as our “supreme High Priest”(Heb 4:14) who sacrificed Himself so that we might approach “the throne of grace”(Heb 4:16) with “confidence”.