As a teacher in a Catholic high school, our faculty goes through weekly faith formation led by the head of our Theology department. The lessons are always thought-provoking and edifying, but the end of this past week’s lesson was downright mind-blowing.
The teacher asked us, “Why did Jesus die?”
And like good Christians, we all said some variation of, “To save us from our sins.”
He smiled, and then he asked, “Why did Jesus live?”
There was a pause. One person timidly suggested, “Same reason?”
“Well, let’s think about this,” he began. “To save man from his sin, all Jesus had to do was become man and take the death that man deserved upon His own shoulders for us to be saved. Man broke the covenant with God, so God became man to take upon the consequence of their betrayal. He could have died as an infant and still accomplished this.
“But he didn’t. As a matter of fact,” he continued, “the Father made sure that didn’t happen! Herod wanted to kill Jesus, but God communicated through dreams to the magi and Joseph to make sure He lived!
We sat, thinking through this. Someone piped up, “To show us how to live.”
The teacher smiled.
“There’s definitely some truth to that. We are called to emulate the way He lived. But if that’s why he lived, then why didn’t He stay with us through old age? Why didn’t he live to ninety so that we could see how to age gracefully and live out a career and relate to future generations? Why die after only three years of public life?”
No one had an answer.
“If we look at Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus avoids the Pharisees plotting his death in Chapter 12. Then he continues traveling and living with the apostles, until Peter finally professes his belief that Jesus is Messiah in Chapter 16.
“Then Jesus says in verse 18, ‘And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.’ Just three verses later it says, ‘From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.'”
“Do you see what happened there?”
He paused again, and smiled.
“He couldn’t die until he founded the Church.”
Another pause. I bet he felt a bit like Jesus waiting for the apostles to figure out the parables. C’mon, you can get there, it’s not really that hard…
“That’s why He lived. He lived to establish a Church. He wanted to make sure He would always be with us.”
“You want to be ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’? Then you don’t know Jesus. All He really wanted was to find a way to get His Spirit to us, all of us, for the rest of this existence. The Church is the great fruit of His earthly life.”