My friend Rosemary said something shocking the other night: Jesus didn’t die for our sins. Sounds like heresy, doesn’t it? Instead, I posit this — not only is she right, but considering the crucifixion in this light can be the most radically healing thing we can do.

As a high school teacher once told me, Bible means “book,” and like all books, the Bible was written to a specific audience: Men, obviously, as women couldn’t read, but even more so, to those of a like mind to its authors. Matthew, for instance, came from a Hebraic background and spoke in terms the Jewish would relate to and understand. Hence, we have Jesus as sacrificial lamb, an image that made sense to Matthew’s audience.

Rosemary’s theory states that Jesus died because He was a person of love, mercy and justice, hounded by those who were threatened by these qualities. I think He let down some people, too, who wanted Him to take the typically male approach to Jewish subjugation: military violence. That just wasn’t His style. Nothing makes a person madder than turning the other cheek or constantly responding with love. So Jesus made a lot of people mad. And they destroyed Him, physically anyway. He certainly wasn’t the last person of love, mercy and justice to be treated thusly.

Why do I consider this point of view a good thing? I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of wallowing in my own sinfulness. I know I’m a wretch. To be told over and over again, from a tender age, that we are responsible for Christ’s death because we are sinners is to be repeatedly told that we are bad. I’m not so sure this engenders the best response.

Example: My husband and I adopted a feral cat who simply did not know how to behave toward people or other animals. He bit and scratched us viciously, chased our other cats, caused trouble. I found myself screeching, “No! Bad!” on a constant basis. This did not make the cat behave; instead, he got worse.

Then one day, I decided to do something different. I wiggled a string at the cat, and when he caught it, I said, “Good boy!” For once, instead of negativity, I concentrated on what he did right. The change in him was immediate. He sought out my lap for petting, walked away from altercations. He was a new cat, all because I started focusing on what was good about him.

What if, instead of blaming ourselves for killing Jesus, we revered Him for who He was and tried to live up to His example? What if, instead of wallowing, we raised ourselves up and did better? This is what I find so revolutionary about what my friend theorized: It encourages us, rather than breaking us down. It replaces guilt, which keeps us down, with a challenge to be Christ-like ourselves. He was human too, after all.

Let’s celebrate Jesus for what He did, not for what we didn’t do. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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