a post by MTS student, Justin Hagerman.
This summer, as we incoming Loyola MTS students were preparing to begin our course of study, we were asked to read and reflect on a sermon by the late Herbert McCabe, O.P. I found “The Mystery of the Cross” to be a fascinating sermon because it helps us think about the nature of God’s love for us by exploring His love for the Son.
McCabe asks why Jesus had to die on the cross. His answer is that Jesus died from being human.While Jesus’ death on the cross might appear a failure, in actuality, it is a victory over the power of evil in the world. By overcoming death, Jesus overcame the world’s rejection of him.
One important postulate of this thesis is that Jesus’ relationship to the Father affects his humanity. Jesus lived like no other human had; in fact, McCabe argues that Jesus was the first human to live in the love as intended by the Father. There, in Jesus’ life, the unity of the divine to the human was perfected in the person of Christ. The Word assumed humanity, and therefore also all things that are human – such as fear, angst, insecurity, and death. The difference, however, in Jesus’ life, is that he responded to what he experienced in a way that was perfect.
Jesus was freed of all these hardships (because of the Father’s love). Especially important was his being freed to live after death. McCabe makes the observation that the nearer Jesus came to his death, the more he became who he was intended to be. The moment when Jesus, while in Gethsemane, lost himself to the Father’s will, he gave himself up to the rejection by humanity. Then, by rising from the dead, he became the savior to the world, giving life (and acceptance) to many after his death. Because of his freedom to live through hardship, he frees people. Not merely by showing them “how to live” or to “be a good teacher,” but rather as the Word that can be accepted and who gives his Spirit to the one who believes.
By freeing people, Jesus changes them. The enslaved Israelites who were freed from Egypt remind of us this. The freedom that Jesus gives people enslaved to sin is just as real as the Israelites journey across the Red Sea. The relationship with the Father affected what Jesus experienced in the world, and it affects the experience of humans freed from sin. This is because, according to McCabe, the deepest truth about people is that they are loved by the Father, because the Son has taken us up in the love of the Father. As McCabe says, “the Father loved him… and in him we are divinized, brought to share in the Father’s life and love.”
McCabe’s sermon has been an excellent catalyst for my thinking about theological questions (and answers) at the graduate level at Loyola. It challenges me to take serious the relationship of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity and the role the incarnation plays God’s love for humanity. Because Jesus in his perfect humanity and divinity frees us from sin, and freely offers his Spirit, the Father loves us as he does the Son.
The late Hebert McCabe was a Dominican priest and teacher at Blackfriars, Oxford. His “The Mystery of the Cross,” comes from God Matters (Mowbry, 2000).