What were the Jewish people looking for?
They wanted freedom and self-determination,
a way to break out of the shackles of Roman rule.
They longed for the Messiah,
a strong ruler sent by God to set them free.
Then Jesus comes.
He announces that God’s in charge.
God’s reign is at hand.
As a faithful Jew, he preaches the Pentateuch—
love of God and love of neighbor.
And he tells parables about what God is like,
and they’re revolutionary stories,
like the one about the “Good Samaritan,”
a parable that teaches not only love of neighbor
but love of enemies.
And Jesus goes about doing good.
Even though the powers-that-be end up killing him,
his followers still experience his presence with them
as they continue to follow his teachings.
They call him “talya” [tale-YAH], a Galilean Aramaic word.
The first syllable has several meanings,
so the Jewish Christians would have understood
that Jesus was being called CHILD, and SON,
and SERVANT, and LAMB.
Its second syllable, “yah,” is Yahweh.
So “talya” would have identified Jesus to them as “servant of God,”
the new Moses.
They also would see Jesus as “son of God” and “child of God,”
the expected Messiah
who would save them from tyranny and oppression.
And they would have understood “talya”
to refer to the crucified Jesus as the innocent paschal lamb
sacrificed for the sins of the people.
Today’s reading from John’s gospel,
written 60 to 80 years after Jesus died,
has John the Baptist call him “the Lamb of God,”
a description that eventually led
to what’s called “atonement theology,”
the belief that God required the brutal murder of Jesus
to make up for our sins.
The theory goes like this:
Adam’s sin offended God, so God requires restitution.
Because God is God, and humans are just humans,
the sin is too big for any of us to make it up to God.
By the Middle Ages Anselm of Canterbury was saying
that sin is an insult to God’s honor,
so it would take a being of infinite greatness,
acting as a human on behalf of humans,
to restore what humans took away.
About a hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas wrote
that Jesus, the innocent lamb,
suffers and dies to pay for our sin.
He is able to atone for our sin because he is the “talya,”
the SON of God.
Jesus, the “talyah,” the innocent LAMB of God, was sinless,
so he didn’t owe anything to God,
and therefore his death is able to make up for
the sin of every human being.
That atonement theology, which comes from a culture
that demands reparation and retribution,
is still with us today
in the official teaching and practice of our church…
and in our criminal justice system.
But it’s seriously flawed.
If we accept it,
then we would have to say that the death of the innocent
is the only way to pay God for our sins.
We would have to say that God is a God of anger and vengeance.
But we’re followers of the way of Jesus,
the child of God, fully human like us.
We are followers of the Jesus who teaches us
to love God, love neighbor, and do justice.
That doesn’t have very much to do with atonement theories.
We see God as a God of love.
We know ourselves and all of creation
to be expressions of God’s love.
We believe that God did NOT send Jesus to die for our sins.
What was his life purpose and why was he killed?
For the same reason that Martin Luther King lived and died:
he challenged the powers
that subjected people to injustice and oppression.
Why DID Jesus die?
For the same reason that Oscar Romero, Ita Ford, Maura Clare,
Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan lived and died:
they loved God and neighbor
and did justice by helping the downtrodden
and speaking truth about the wrongs they saw in El Salvador.
Why DID Jesus die?
For the same reason that hundreds of thousands of people
are dying of hunger around the world and in our back yards:
we don’t love our neighbors enough
to cut back on our excesses
so they can live in peace and have enough to eat.
We have heard their voices crying out in the deserts of our lifetime,
calling us to make God’s way straight by the way we live.
So we have to listen to their cry and answer them with our lives.
We have to go about protesting on street corners,
sending letters to elected officials,
giving our extras to the guests at Claver House,
planting trees, voting our conscience,
smiling at strangers, forgiving the wrongs done to us…
in short, we have to keep on living in ways
that show that we believe
our purpose in life is to go about doing good.