for me, one of the most troubling beliefs of orthodox christianity is that of the "atonement." the belief that God required jesus to be put to death to atone for the sins of all humanity seems incompatible with the loving God that i worship. a few mornings ago, as i contemplated jesus' ministry and execution, i seemed to be led to a new understanding of its meaning. when jesus began his ministry, he was aware that his teaching would arouse strong opposition from the rich and powerful. as he befriended the poor, the powerless, the unclean, those who were seen as traitors to the jewish people, and those who were regarded as infidels, the elite at the opposite end of the social spectrum believed this radical teacher posed a threat to the established order. jesus' teaching that one could only become great by becoming a servant was contrary to the very foundation of the jewish system that had reached an accomodation with the roman conquerors.
jesus knew that his challenge to this system when he taught that gentiles as well as jews could participate in the kingdom of God, when he taught that women were to be regarded as men's equals, and when he taught that the intentions of the heart were more important than outward signs of religiosity would bring him into direct conflict with the religious leaders who had much to lose if jesus' teachings took hold among the population of palestine. from the beginning of his ministry, jesus saw where his teachings would lead him, and the religious establishment began plotting against him as soon as they saw his influence spreading among the people.
jesus' death was not a necessary blood sacrifice so that all people could be forgiven, but it was an indication to his followers that there were more important considerations than the preservation of one's life, since life is fleeting. he taught that we are like blades of grass that wither and die, but the good we do lives on after us, sending out ripples of love through each life that we touch. jesus didn't atone for our sins, he gave us an example of the power one life can have if it is lived in love and service. his brief ministry made him immortal and the good he did continues to influence our lives, making us great by making us servants.
my prayer for each of us this day is that we remember how and why jesus lived and died and that we live the abundant life that he calls us to. shalom.