Paying Back God

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This week is Holy Week, the week before Easter.  We live in a Catholic country here in Costa Rica.  That means that this holiday is most certainly “owned” by the Catholic traditions.  On Friday a group of us intend to go to Cartago to view the dramatic processional of the Catholic church, take pictures, and ponder the differences between the Catholic celebration of Holy Week and the nearly non-mention of it by the Protestant churches here.

Effigy of Jesus carrying his cross

So in preparation for our excursion I’ve been studying up on the Catholic Stations of the Cross (which is what the parade will depict).  There are 14 traditional stations but only 8 of them have any foundation in the Biblical account of the Passion of Christ.  The others find their origin in legends, local artifacts and human traditions that have grown up around the Crucifixion story.  Wikipedia says “The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage of prayer, through meditation upon the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death.”  Sounds good to me so far.  Especially considering that even most modern believers rarely read their Bibles and centuries of believers had no Bible of their own- the visual story is good.

But here’s the kicker, “In the Catholic tradition, the meditation is often performed in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during His passion.”  And “Pope Pius XI called the Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ a duty for Catholics and referred to them as ‘some sort of compensation to be rendered for the injury’ ” of the sufferings of Jesus.  Let that just sink in for a minute.  Can a human ever pay back the Son of God?  Ridiculous!  I’d like to add that Jesus never even asked for compensation from us, He never even wanted us to pay Him back.  That is the whole idea behind the Son of God paying for our sins with His life- we can’t ever pay for our sins.  He offers forgiveness from sins as a free gift- it can’t be earned or deserved.

To say that Jesus wants or needs us to compensate him for even one injury that he received on that bitter sweet day is to completely cheapen His entire sacrifice and elevate ourselves to the position of benefactor instead of acknowledging what we truly are- helplessly lost, unashamedly rebellious, irreparably broken, unworthy of notice, wallowing in our own filth, naturally unfaithful, prone to wander, never good enough.  We devalue Christ’s sacrifice when we try to pay Him back.

Think of it like this.  Suppose you bought a really great birthday present for your wife, something that she had been needing and wanting ever since you first met her.  You knew this was going to be the gift to top all gifts.  And when she opened it instead of the wild expressions of exuberance and joy- the thanks with deep gratitude that you anticipate- she got out her check book and said, “Honey, that must have cost you a lot, what do I owe you?”  You would be so hurt and offended that she didn’t realize that it was a GIFT, a free gift, not given with the intention of ever being paid back.  You just gave the gift because you LOVED her, not because you wanted or needed to be paid back!  Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross is just like that- He gave himself to us out of His Love for us and never wanted or asked for us to try to pay Him back.  He just wants us to accept the gift (of forgiveness of sin), be really excited and happy about it, and to love him in return.  It’s just that simple.

So on Good Friday when I watch Saint Veronica wipe the mud from the face of Jesus with her veil and receive the “true icon” of his image burned into the fabric I will be thinking of the purity and simplicity of the greatest gift ever given.  And I will humbly and joyfully thank my Father in Heaven for giving me exactly the thing that I needed and wanted- the perfect GIFT- His only Son.  I love Him because He loved me first.

2 responses »

  1. Great perspective. And I really appreciate you not throwing out the baby with the bath water on this one too, and still being open enough to go and see the depiction and experience it with an open heart. Too often we devalue and ignore the traditions of other Christians because there are components that are misguided, and therefore miss out on so many of the truly amazing and faith-enhancing elements. This Easter season was the first time I ever practiced, in some form, Lent, and it has been amazing! My faith and my walk have grown because of something I’ve ignored for my entire life purely because it’s labeled Catholic. Granted, just like you explained, there are components that are misguided, but there are other things that have added so much to my anticipation of Easter this year! While I don’t think our suffering redeems our spirit in any way, we do identify with Christ through suffering, so I think viewing those parts of the stations could bring value to your experience. Anyway, I ramble. Suffice it to say, I would love to be able to experience the Holy Week like you are able to this week. May God enrich your walk with Him in new ways through these new experiences!!!

    • That’s been one of the saddest things about the Protestant church here in Latin America. They very often throw out everything because it was part of their Catholic background. I want to tell them, “It’s YOUR story too!!” Just because I don’t honor all the extra saints thrown in the mix doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t mine. But it’s so sad that they make such a big deal of the crucifixion and then on Resurrection Sunday it’s back to business as usual. They are missing the best part of the story! They leave Jesus on the cross and they are left in their sorrow and mourning until Easter next year.

      Easter is exciting to me. And I wish they would rejoice in the Resurrection too. I have such happy memories of all our church traditions and songs and all the visuals of the special day. I have nothing against visuals and traditions, but to forget the resurrection is just sad and anticlimactic! I want to CELEBRATE on Easter!

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