Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Did Jesus give his life up for all people or for many people?
Back in Advent, when the new translation of the Mass began to be implemented, one of the significant changes was that of the consecration prayer for the wine, which was changed from Christ’s blood being shed “for you and for all” to it being poured out “for you and for many”. Many began to wonder at this point – had the Church’s theology changes? Were we becoming more exclusive? And most significantly, did Jesus only die for certain people while leaving the rest on their own? The answer to each of those is a resounding ‘No!’
The reason the reason the translation was changed to indicate ‘for many’ rather than ‘for all’ is because of the scripture passages this weekend. When the Lord spoke those blessed words over the chalice at the Last Supper with the disciples, he used the term meaning ‘for many’ so as to implicitly point to the fact that He Himself is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Jesus is the one the Isaiah prophesied would come to give His life for sin that others might find life, and to justify humanity through His suffering. Jesus is the one that would come to ‘justify many’. How then do we reconcile such statements with the words of St. Peter, whose First Letter tells us that, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”?
Catholics believe and have always professed that Christ died not for a few people but for the whole of humanity. In taking on our flesh, we were all joined to Him in the justification that took place in His death. But the reality is that we each have free will and must choose to receive the gift of salvation that God offers to us. To say that Christ died ‘for many’ can in a sense be a positive statement indicating the large number of souls that have found eternal life through Him. But the flip side is the sad reality that not all are saved because not all desire to be saved and not all live according to the commandments of Christ and merit that salvation. Salvation is open to all, we just have to take the steps to open ourselves to receive it. And the Lord gives us a clue today on how that happens: by becoming servants.
When we think of becoming servants toward others we often think of doing acts of charity, like that done by Christ in the washing of the disciples’ feet. We think of the corporal works of mercy - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and so on. But with the context of these scripture passages today, we see that the greatest act of the servant is His death that brings life. And since we are supposed to be imitators of Christ Jesus, we are called in the same way to put ourselves to death that others might find life. For some in the history of the Church that meant a martyrdom of great physical suffering and death; for us it means a martyrdom of a different kind.
St. Jean Vianney once said, “What will convert [a soul] is the sanctity of your own life.” The service we are called to by Our Lord is that of dying to ourselves daily, a sort of bloodless martyrdom, so that we can be people of holiness and help bring others to the faith, Christ Jesus and salvation. This sounds like a huge task, but it is surprisingly simple and we get a few pointers in the scriptures today.
First, we must have a relationship with Jesus Christ. When Our Lord asks James and John what they wanted from Him, He already knew the answer. He simply wanted them to speak with Him and say it themselves; He wanted the relationship aspect because He knew it was important for them. The same applies with us – He doesn’t need us to say anything to Him because He knows it already, but He desires it because we need that relationship to find life.
Second, we must go to the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation. To be free to walk the path of holiness we must let go of the burden of sin in our lives. The Letter to the Hebrews commands us to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” The font of God’s Divine Mercy flows with abundant grace, but many unless we actually make use of it, it is there in vain.
And lastly is that more commonly understood sense of service. After we have come to know Christ and experienced the freedom from sin that He bought us at the price of His blood, we are called to go out and live the Gospel – to do the corporal works of mercy, to speak about Christ, to spread the Good News that we have been redeemed and that many will be saved if we but open ourselves to the gift held out to us.