Christ is the Target of our Sins
IN Him they are burned up

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

God prepared his people for the birth of Christ in Bethlehem with the beautiful prophecy in Micah:

You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah
too small to be among the clans of Judah,
From you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel (Micah 5:1 or 5:2 depending on your translation)

In the same way, God in his mercy, tried to prepare his people for Christ’s passion with descriptions in Isaiah of a future servant who would take enormous sufferings on himself on behalf of everyone. While there are what could be regarded as many prophecies of Christ in Isaiah, there are four that we call the Servant Songs. We heard the third one in our first reading today (Isa 50:5-9a), and the fourth one - the most extensive, most specific and most detailed – is read on Good Friday every year (Isa 52:13-53:12). In the first reading today, the Third Servant Song, we see this servant, Christ, taking the sufferings of others on himself.

I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. (Isa 50:6)

Christ is at the receiving end of evil, and that evil is specified as our sins and offenses in the more detailed prophecy of his passion that we hear on Good Friday:

he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins,
Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed. (Isa 53:5)

While people were willing to accept that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, accepting a Messiah pierced for our offenses and crushed for our sins would be more difficult. In the Gospel today, when Jesus asked his disciples who the people thought he was, he got all sorts of inadequate answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Peter correctly answered that Jesus is the Messiah, but when Jesus announces his passion and death, Peter doesn’t want to hear anything of it. Yet this is precisely what Isaiah had said about a future suffering servant. Jesus had to take all the world’s sin on himself and become our expiation and atonement. Even though Peter did not obviously adequately understand Isaiah at the time of the Gospel today - do not worry - by the time Peter wrote his first letter, he had fully understood. In his first letter he alludes to the Servant Songs obviously seeing them fulfilled in Jesus (1 Pet 2:24-25).

 

When Peter objected to Jesus’ passion, without knowing it, he was objecting to the very reason why Jesus came. Jesus came to be the target of our sins. He would be the bull’s-eye in the dartboard pierced by our sins. Before the soldier pierced Jesus’ side with the lance, Jesus had already been pierced for our sins when he was scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, fell on the road up to Calvary and was pierced by the nails. In Jesus, God’s love burns up our sins. In his letter to the Romans Paul describes it this way:

all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus,
whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood (Rom 3:23-25)

and later in the letter,

For just as through the disobedience of one the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous. (Rom 5:19)

and in the second letter to the Corinthians,

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19)

and finally in the first letter of John,

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10)

I think we could say those New Testament excerpts are another way of saying what we heard in Isaiah in the first reading,

I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. (Isa 50:6)

Sin is not the last word. The last word is Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. Jesus came to be the target of our sins. He would be the bull’s-eye in the dartboard pierced by our sins. In Jesus, God’s love burns up our sins. When Jesus died, he came before the Father in heaven showing his wounds. Instead of the Father seeing only our sins he looks through Jesus’ wounds of expiation and atonement to see us.

We adore you O Christ and we praise you
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2018

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More Homilies for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year B

Taking up our Cross after Jesus

Do we live the Faith we Profess or run from the Cross? 2006

Peter professed his faith by how he lived and died, we do likewise 2012

Related Homilies: The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering according to Pope John Paul II 2008

Carrying Our Cross after Jesus

Growing through Trials like Peter

Jesus on the Cross Teaching us how to respond to Unjust Suffering 2015

stories about our cross

Second Reading: on faith and works see Saved by Jesus and Doing the will of the Father 2008