We continue our reflections based on N.T. Wright’s “Christians at the Cross.” Today, Bishop Wright makes the point that often, when we speak of what Jesus did on the cross, we’ll say something like, “He paid for all my sins.” We tend to speak of our sins in the abstract. A fresh reading of the gospels reminds us that sin is never abstract. Even if we just name the direct sins that put Jesus on the cross 2000 years ago, we come across some of the worst aspects of human character. He writes:
Think about it. Lying, including false witness in a law court. Yes, that’s there. Injustice, and oppression of the weak by the strong and of the poor by the rich. Yes, that’s there. Racial prejudice: that’s certainly there, with Pilate sneering at the Jews in general and Jesus in particular as ‘king of the Jews’. Idolatry: well, that’s behind quite a lot of it, as the Romans idolize their own military might and their much-touted justice system. Love of power: certainly, that’s what kept Caiaphas and his friends going. And there’s plenty of others as well. And…the nastiest of all: betrayal.
We were not there that day when Jesus went to the cross. But it was our sins that put him there. Our specific wrongs. And the power and beauty of the gospel message is that Jesus does not forgive us in the abstract. He opened the way for every specific sin we ever committed to be forgiven. Every lie, proud thought, careless word, heartless action, selfish mistake… everything. By naming our failures and bringing them to the cross, every sin is wiped away. And then, forgiven for our specific wrongs, we are set free to forgive the specific things that others have done to us.