The Cross Revisited #3

Metaphors – no debt paid

A common description of the cross in the Gospels is of Jesus’ death being a ransom for many. Behind this is a slavery image. This led to many discussions in the early church as to who the debt was paid to. Paid to God? Paid to the devil? But the language is a metaphor and is rooted in the Exodus story where the people were ransomed from Egypt (Mic. 6: 4; 1 Cor. 7: 23). No payment was made to Pharaoh,4 but the people were redeemed, ransomed. The reality is that they were delivered, that Pharaoh no longer had ownership of them, the people going free from bondage.

Jesus does not die as a sinner

The verdict of the powers was that he was a sinner. A blasphemer (Jewish view), an anarchic insurrectionist against power (Roman view). Those accusations covered the reality of their positions. He exposed the supposed understanding of right / wrong that the Jews had to offer, and of the benefits that the Empire claimed to bring to all the citizens. He made an open show of the hostile powers. He might have been condemned and hung there stripped naked, but truly the powers that exercised their rule through religious and social constructs were the ones being exposed.

He is no sinner dying. God has another verdict. He dies as an innocent one, and is not judged by God. We have to stay within the bounds of biblical language, and Paul is very careful to state that it was not Jesus who was condemned by God at the cross, but that sin was condemned.

And so he condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8: 4).

The cross is not some pagan ritual but the act of a Tri-une God to deal in history with everything that stands in the way of humanity finding the path to truly reflecting the glory of God. It is not that my sin plus your sin plus… is put on Jesus, raising of course the question for whom did Jesus die (‘only the elect?’, or ‘for all’ and we all go free), but sin as the dominant power, sin as devouring lives, as transgressing boundaries, as scapegoating others, sin as religion, sin as division is judged in that event. Truly the tree of knowledge of good and evil does not need to be eaten from ever again. The tree of life, the tree that counteracts death is open.

We can theorise about the cross, we can elevate one metaphor above another, but we also have to recognise that no one metaphor will make plain what took place. I wonder whether there is something reflected to us in the description of those who are still present at the crucifixion that encourages us to be like them and that if we are that we might just have greater sight into what took place. The men had gone. The women remained. John remained. Maybe the one who saw love at a deeper level than others, perhaps due to his simplicity by male standards, perhaps the one who exhibited unique responses, leaning on Jesus’ chest (exhibiting behavioural or emotional ‘special needs’?). The heart, not the head is the means to understand the cross.

4 Ironically not only was there no payment made for their release, the Egyptians ‘paid’ them to leave!