THE EFFICACY OF CHRIST’S SACRIFICE TO TAKE AWAY SINS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEB 10:1-10; PS 40:2, 4, 7-8, 10, 11; MK 3:31-35 ]
In the first reading from the letter to the Hebrews, we read that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were “quite incapable of bringing the worshippers to perfection, with the same sacrifices repeatedly offered year after year.” Consequently, it meant that these sacrifices did not take away their sins. “Otherwise, the offering of them would have stopped, because the worshippers, when they had been purified once, would have no awareness of sins. Instead of that, the sins are recalled year after year in the sacrifices.”
Why were the sacrifices ineffective in taking away their sins? The sacrifice that was offered was the blood of animals. These sacrifices were extraneous to the priests who offered them. This is not to say that the sacrifices had no relevance in helping the people to live a life of perfection. Animal sacrifices were not cheap. Although the sacrifices they offered were not identical to themselves, they could be expressions of their desire to sacrifice themselves, albeit in limited ways, to God as atonement for their sins. Even then, the sacrifices were offered out of fear of God’s punishment more than from a truly contrite heart. Most of all, they remained unsure of God’s forgiveness.
Christ’s sacrifice was entirely different from the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Instead of offering an animal sacrifice, He offered Himself. The author wrote, “Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what he said, on coming into the world: You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation, prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin; then I said, just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book, ‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.'” Christ’s sacrifice is perfect because He is not offering something extraneous to Himself. Rather, He is the priest and the victim of the sacrifice. Instead of holocausts, He offered His own body and blood for the salvation of the world. At the Last Supper, He “took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'” (Lk 22:19f)
How does the offering of Christ’s body and blood take away our sins? In the sacrifice of Christ, the giving up of His body and blood is the expression of God’s love and mercy for humanity. In accepting the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the Father demonstrated His unconditional love and forgiveness for all the sins of humanity. The death of Christ is the act of self-emptying of the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father. The Father was sonless and the Son was fatherless at the cross. It was a mutual act of perfect love for humanity.
His death on the cross also expressed God’s identification with us sinners in our sinfulness. St Paul wrote, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21) St Peter said, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pt 2:24) The author of Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15f) Indeed, it is through Christ’s suffering and death on the cross that we come to know with certainty that God understands how much we suffer in temptation and when we fall into sin. Therefore, He wants to assure us of His solidarity with us and to know that we are forgiven unconditionally.
However, we could repeat the same mistake as in the Old Testament. We can be offering the sacrifice of Christ at every mass we celebrate, the one and eternal sacrifice. Unless we make the sacrifice of Christ our own, then we are no better than mere observers and extraneous worshippers, like the people during the Old Testament. We can attend mass daily, but unless we enter into the sacrifice of Christ and interiorize His words and deeds, we too will find the sacrifice of Christ unable to change our lives. Indeed, many Catholics, whether church-going or otherwise, confess in Christ but are still living in sin. This is because they forget or are ignorant of the intention of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
In truth, Christ’s sacrifice is more than just the giving up of His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. It is also His way to show us that following God’s will is more important than anything else. “You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.” We are to do the will of God. The offering of Christ’s body is His total expression of obedience to God. Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” At the Garden of Gethsemane, He surrendered completely, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42)
In the gospel, Jesus underscored in no uncertain terms, the basis for being in the family of God. He asked, “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.'” The family members of our Lord go beyond biological ties. Spiritual ties transcend any physical or biological relationships. Even in daily life, we are often much closer to our friends than our family members. We find ourselves to be more open and more confident in sharing our lives with our friends than family members because of prejudice and fear. So too, in our relationship with God, Jesus insists that what keeps us one with Him is when we also imitate Him in doing the will of God. This is what makes us His sons and daughters. In the Lord’s Prayer, after we say, “Our Father in heaven” we immediately say, “Holy be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done!” Our filial relationship with God is dependent on whether we conduct ourselves as His sons and daughters by observing His holy will at all times.
So the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice objectively is effective in taking away our sins because it is the offering of Himself, the expression of His Father’s love, mercy and forgiveness, and most of all, as a mentor in leading us the way to salvation by doing God’s will. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 5:8-10) We are called to imitate Christ in doing God’s will and to be obedient to Him. Only when we do God’s will as Jesus did, can we grow in perfection and in holiness.
With the psalmist, we say, “Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will.” What does it take to do His will? “You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear. You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead, here am I. Your justice I have proclaimed in the great assembly. My lips I have not sealed; you know it, O Lord. I have not hidden your justice in my heart but declared your faithful help. I have not hidden your love and your truth from the great assembly.” Living a life of justice, charity and compassion is what the Lord asks of us. As St Peter says, “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” (1 Pt 4:8f) The book of Proverbs says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” (Proverbs 10:12) But what is important is that we do all these not out of fear but out of love for God and our fellowmen.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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