Death: What enables us to say that Jesus died “for us”?

What seemed to be self-evident in the Jewish tradition and in the New Testament creates a difficulty in these days of strong individualism. Contrary to the feeling of “each for himself”, every human being was considered as representative of humanity, humanity envisaged as a unity, not abstractly but as a reality of a spiritual order. This is difficult for us to imagine today.

We do, however, have experiences of close human solidarity, of profound communion, in which we feel that all humanity is one and that every human being can offer a figure of this humanity. Think of how it affects us interiorly to learn that someone offers to die in the place of another. Think of so many men and women who do not hesitate to risk their lives for the sake of someone else, or even more simply who give their lives in service, as if that life belonged to others. Or think of examples when one person suffered and this suffering affected us as if it were our own. In such situations, one suspects that humanity is not restricted to just a random juxtaposition of individuals, but that it tends towards a unity of which each human person is a representative. It was in this sense that Brother Roger liked to talk about the “human family”.

In this perspective, Jesus himself, in a unique and absolute manner, is to be confessed as the Man par excellence, as Pilate expressed better than he knew when he said; “Behold the Man” (John 19:5). Such an expression must inevitably be understood on two levels: “Here is your man, the individual you have brought to me”, and “Here is the image of Man such as the Creator planned him from all Eternity, the true representative of every human being in the eyes of God.”

Indeed, in the manner in which God chooses to enter into relationship with humanity in the closest way possible, one cannot understand the reason for the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ unless we recognize in him the Son of God becoming the brother of each of us. Our brother and, even more, our representative before God—even better; the way I am almost personally present to God. We can say that Christ takes our place to live before God a human existence which responds perfectly to the love of his Father and that he faces in place of us the curse of death. But paradoxically, he takes our place without taking it from us but rather, by giving us our true place.

By his human birth, it is my life that he takes into himself in order to give me a share in his—in his earthly existence, lived in freedom and obedience; in his sorrowful and victorious Cross; in his eternal life. So great in him is the gift of his life, in the face of the curse of his death, that he turns it back into a blessing for himself and for us.

Brother Pierre-Yves

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