"Did Jesus have to die?"
Thank you for your brave and insightful question during Sunday School. Did Jesus have to die? There does seem to be something wrong about us giving thanks for someone dying, doesn’t there?
Any answer I give to your compassionate question will be insufficient because Jesus’ death wasn’t “right.” Anytime a person is killed, there is something wrong and sinful going on, especially when the person is innocent. But, even though what I will say will lack completeness, I did want to respond.
Was it necessary for Jesus to die? I don’t think it was “necessary,” but I do think it was “inevitable.” Any time we truly love someone, we will sacrifice for them. There is no love without sacrifice. For example, as a parent, if your child is in danger, you will likely risk everything, including perhaps your own life, to save them. If you die in the process of loving them, is it “right” that you die? No, but that is what can happen. Love leads to sacrifice.
Most of us do not have to make life and death decisions to act out our love, but we often do sacrifice to demonstrate our love. Imagine a friend calling you up at 1:00 a.m. because they are hurting or sad. You talk to them for an hour to help them out. Your talking to them is a sacrifice of your own sleep and your own peace of mind. You show your love by sacrificing.
Divine love is not forced to sacrifice. Love comes from choice. Jesus was not “made to” die. He choose his own path.
The reason why we give thanks for Jesus and his death is because he showed us how to love as God loves. And, when we love like God loves, we are set free. We may have to sacrifice to love the way Jesus loved, but we will experience peace, hope, and salvation (which means “wholeness”). Jesus came and taught people about God and loving God and loving each other - some things he said made people mad - but he still loved them. He could have stopped loving them and saved himself, but he chose to keep loving them, even if they (we) didn’t return his love. In their (our) anger and fear, they killed him rather than listen to what he said and repent (turn to God).
But, the good news (“Gospel” means “good news”) we remember each Sunday is that God raised Jesus up and the Church was formed and people learned that the power of God’s love is even more powerful than evil in the world. Evil causes great harm, but love can and often does overwhelm and conquer evil.
I think of all the evil that took place during the Holocaust, all the people who died. Yet, I also remember there were many Christians who risked their own lives protecting and sheltering Jews. They did this because they believed loving God and loving neighbor meant being willing to risk the sacrifice of their own life. They did this because of Jesus. And, because of their actions, the world is a better place - the world is a little more “saved.”
That is why we are grateful for Jesus’s death. We are not glad he died. But we are glad he showed us how to love. When we really love, not only do we work with God to save the world, we are opening ourselves to allow God to save us: We become better people, more whole people, more kind people, more human people.
Jesus is like someone who took a machete and chopped his way through the jungle of evil so we could have a path to God. Unfortunately, in the process of making a way clear to God, Jesus himself was killed. We give thanks for his brave sacrifice and his devotion to Truth. We are better because of him.
I know this didn’t answer your question altogether, maybe not much at all?! However, I really do respect the integrity of your question.