February 16, 2016

Christ's Death Redeemed Us. But Why Did Jesus Live?

Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom
Most people see the Incarnation of Jesus in light of His atoning death. Christ, the Lamb of God, the unblemished offering, became man to pay the ransom for humanity's transgressions. In so doing, Jesus conquered sin and death, opening up for us the gates of Heaven and hope for life everlasting. Venerable Fulton J. Sheen writes in Life of Christ:
Christ was our "stand-in" on the stage of life. He took our guilt as if He were guilty and thus paid the debt that sin deserved, namely, death. This made possible our resurrection to "new life" in Him. Christ, therefore, is not just a teacher or a pleasant revolutionist, but our Savior.
Much has been written about the nature and necessity of Jesus' redemptive sacrifice on the cross. And for good reason. It was the climactic act of His earthly ministry. However, Christ didn't just live in order to die. If the sole mission of Jesus was to provide an expiating death, than the Holy Family needn't have fled to Egypt when Herod sent soldiers to Bethlehem to kill the Messiah. [Matthew 2: 13-15] If our Savior's only purpose was to shed atoning blood, than He wouldn't have escaped through the crowed that conspired to kill Him following His first sermon in Nazareth. [Luke 4:16-30] On numerous occasions, Christ alludes capture and certain demise by evading the authorities and fleeing plots on His life. Clearly, He had something to live for.

Why then, did the Second Person of the Trinity live (a human existence)? Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition affirm that through His Incarnation, Jesus: 1.) shows us in His words and deeds how to be His disciple; 2.) names twelve Apostles (mirroring the twelve tribes of Israel) who help spread the Gospel throughout the world and build the Church; 3.) sets Peter apart, giving him primacy among the Apostles; 4.) reveals to His Apostles that He must suffer and die, prefiguring His Crucifixion on Calvary, and; 5.) at the Last Supper, institutes the Eucharist and also the priesthood to licitly confect and administer the sacraments.

1.) The first reason for the Incarnation of Christ is fairly obvious and requires little explanation. In His teachings and His actions, Jesus is the Exemplar, par excellence, of how we should live and what we ought to do. He also reveals our destiny, if we persevere in love.

2.) Christ assumed human flesh to establish and proclaim His Kingdom on earth. In naming the twelve Apostles, Jesus, the "new Jacob," reconstitutes the twelve tribes of Israel around Himself. Israel was supposed to be a light to the world; showing other nations how to worship the one, true God. Now, the twelve Apostles, with their privileged knowledge of Jesus Incarnate, would spread the light of Christ through His Kingdom the Church.

3.) The third reason for Christ's Incarnation was to establish the papacy. In the Old Testament, the greatest and wisest king, King Solomon, was a builder. After his wisdom, Solomon is known for constructing the magnificent First Temple in Jerusalem. Christ, the King of the universe, is also a builder. In Caesarea Philippi, following Peter's profession of faith that Jesus was the Messiah, [Matthew 16: 13-20] Christ declares to Peter:
... you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Peter is the foundation stone upon which Christ builds His Church. When Jesus gives Peter the "keys to the kingdom," He unequivocally evokes the Davidic Kingdom of Israel [Isaiah 22] wherein the prime minister had discretion to "bound and loose" in the King's absence. In the above passage, the words "Kingdom" and "Church" are synonymous. Thus, Jesus names Peter prime minister and charges him with overseeing the Church until Christ's return. Fr. Dwight Longenecker explains:
Isaiah 22 provides the Old Testament context that Jesus’ disciples would have understood completely as he quoted this particular passage in Matthew 16. When Jesus said to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven," his disciples would recognize the passage from Isaiah. They would understand that not only was Jesus calling himself the King of his kingdom, but that he was appointing Peter as his royal steward. That John in Revelation sees the ascended and glorified Christ holding the eternal keys only confirms the intention of Jesus to delegate that power to Peter — the foundation stone of his Church.
The "keys" given to Peter represent aspects and responsibilities of the papacy. (See St. Peter, the Rock, the Keys, and the Primacy of Rome in the Early Church: Conclusion on "Keys" of Matthew 16:19 for a complete list.)

4.) Having established a line of successors to teach and guide His Church in His absence, Jesus tells the Apostles for the first time that He must suffer and die. Peter tries to rebuke Christ but the Lord upbraids Peter saying, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." [Matthew 16: 22-23] A short time later, Jesus doubles down on being a "Suffering Servant," when He says, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." [Matthew 16: 24-25] Surely, the Apostles found this idea disturbing. Many in Israel had hoped for a political messiah who would vanquish Israel's enemies and restore her to greatness. What Jesus proposed seemed the exact opposite.

Little did the Apostles realize that by virtue of His obedience to the will of the Father, Christ marks all human suffering with dignity as an occasion of grace. Moreover, the darkness of Good Friday leads to the glory of Easter morning as the Exsultet Easter Proclamation states: "O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!"

5.) At the Last Supper, Jesus' Apostles thought they were observing the Passover. They did not know Jesus would do that and infinitely more. At that eucharistic meal, Jesus celebrated the first Mass and instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders to perpetuate this sacrifice. When Christ said, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer," then took bread and blessed it saying: "Take and eat, this is My Body." and "This cup is the new covenant in my Blood, shed for you." the Apostles realized something new and extraordinary was happening [Matthew 26: 26-30], [Mark 14: 22-26], [Luke 22: 14-20].

The teaching and example of Jesus had a profound and lasting impact on the men He called to follow Him. All of Christ's Apostles (excluding Judas and John) were martyred for their faith. Despite great suffering and hardship, they remained faithful, courageously emulating Christ in giving the last measure of their lives.

May it be so with us today.

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