by Father Mike Stubbs
Those mourning the loss of a loved one — or facing death because of terminal illness or old age — wonder why death must come their way.
It is a commonplace fact that all life must eventually end, but that does not stop us from asking the question.
Similarly, the Gospels address the question of why Jesus dies. After all, he is the Son of God. He could escape death. But he does not.
As we begin Holy Week, we hear the Passion reading from Mark’s Gospel, 14:1-15:47. It offers us several explanations.
First of all, it is God’s will. This comes out clearly in Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus says: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”
Jesus’ prayer also reveals that he dies because he is obedient to God. He rejects the temptation to rebel against God, just as he had rejected the temptations he encountered while fasting for 40 days in the desert.
But the Gospel also points to a human element to explain Jesus’ death: conspiracy among the authorities, facilitated by Judas’ betrayal.
Its narration of Jesus’ trials before Pilate and before the Sanhedrin give us an insight into that conspiracy. Throughout the Gospel, though, we have seen how Jesus has encountered opposition, which reaches its climax in his death.
Ultimately, though, Mark’s Gospel establishes a connection between us and Jesus’ death. It tells us that Jesus died on our behalf. Countless people die every day. But how many can we say die for us?
At the Last Supper, Jesus says to the disciples: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many” (14:24). We include ourselves in the “many” for which he died.
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had told his disciples: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).
In the Old Testament, an animal could be sacrificed to atone for someone’s sin. In this way, a person would be ransomed. Similarly, Jesus is sacrificed on the cross to ransom us.
The sacrifice of an animal could also seal the covenant between God and the people. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross similarly sealed the covenant between us and God.
During this Holy Week, as we stand before the cross of Jesus Christ, we gaze in awe at the mystery of his death. It is the mystery that brings us life. And it helps us to grapple with the mystery of our own life and death.