Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Focus on blame game misses point of sacrifice, which was foretold

Published: March 6, 2004

By Father James P. West

Lent is well underway, and it is likely that our minds are focused by now upon the many “hardships” of this season. How easy it is for us to forget what stands behind the Church’s Lenten practices — our need for the transformation of heart, mind and soul, by prayerfully joining ourselves to the sufferings of Christ our Lord.

Only by remembering this can we comprehend the enormity of our Lord’s sacrifice and allow that sacrifice to move us to the proper gratitude for all that he has done. This Lent we have the chance visually to enter more fully into the Lord’s sacrifice than perhaps ever before. The movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” has recently been released, and countless people have now seen the film.

While its viewing might be difficult and painful for us, it certainly leaves little to the imagination and forces those who see it into a reconsideration of the enormity of Christ’s active love for sinful humanity. This movie has caught the attention of a secular media, which is often indifferent to religion at best and sometimes even visibly hostile toward it.

The current issue concerns whether this film might become a catalyst for igniting anti-Jewish sentiment in a predominately non-Jewish society and world. Scholars are debating anew the roles of both the Roman and Jewish leaders in the crucifixion of Christ in an effort to determine either whom to exonerate or whom to blame.

Such a concern, though, is little more than a misguided and ill-advised venture, as it tends to blur the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice and to direct us away from the realization of just what was unfolding in the days of the Jewish high priest Caiphas, the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate and the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.

The one thing that seems almost to be forgotten in the current discussion is that it was deemed necessary in the mind and plan of God for the Christ to suffer and to die in this way. Clearly, prophesy, which was already centuries old by the time of Christ, had indicated that the Suffering Servant of God would endure such a fate and that through this event would come the salvation of the world. Isaiah wrote of this.

The Psalms foretold it. Christ himself personally predicted it. As of the commission of the original sin, the countdown was underway to the sacred events commemorated in this movie. The fact is that the salvation of the world resulted from the rejection of Christ, a rejection that came from all the peoples involved.

Yes, the Romans and the Jewish religious leadership conspired to bring about this execution, yet the event itself was a critical part of the eternal plan of God. Furthermore, no one group can possibly be “blamed” for the Lord’s crucifixion, unless that group is the entire group of humanity. Those quick to accuse the ancestors of today’s Jews of the death of Christ must remember that the Roman occupiers of Israel were in one sense the ancestors of today’s Gentiles.

The Lord was rejected and crucified by both the Jewish and the Gentile worlds. That covers us all. May this holy season be a time for us to turn in gratitude to the Lord for his profound and sacrificial love for all of humanity, for a humanity that once rejected him, for a humanity that has found our salvation in the sacrificial death that he endured for us all.