Expiation

Over the last year I have been reading Benedict XVI’s three-volume work on Jesus as presented in the Gospels, not written as an official binding Church teaching but as the man Joseph Ratzinger’s “personal search for the face of the Lord.” Reading through it has opened up wonderful new experiences and understandings in my own search for God and my love affair with His Church.  For example, I find myself reflecting today how fitting it is this year that the Jewish Day of Atonement and the Christian Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross fall on the same day, a rare occasion given that today is the earliest (if I’ve calculated rightly) that the Jewish feast can fall in the Gregorian Calendar. Please allow me to share with you the former pope’s reflection on the following passage from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans (3:23-25). Perhaps it will help open up new understandings of both the Jewish and Christian faiths for you. 🙂

All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Jesus Christ, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed.

“The Greek word that is here translated as ‘expiation’ is hilasterion, of which the Hebrew equivalent is kapporet. This word designated the covering of the Ark of the Covenant. This is the place over which YHWH appears in a cloud, the place of the mysterious presence of God. This holy place is sprinkled with the blood of the bull killed as a sin-offering on the Day of Atonement — the Yom ha-Kippurim (cf. Lev. 16), ‘whose life is offered up to God in place of the life forfeited by sinful men’ (Wilckens, Theologie des Neuen Testaments II/1 p. 235). The thinking here is that the blood of the victim, into which all human sins are absorbed, actually touches the Divinity and is thereby cleansed — and in the process human beings, represented by the blood, are also purified by this contact with God: an astonishing idea both in its grandeur and its incompleteness, an idea that could not remain the last word in the history of religions or the last word in the faith history of Israel.

“When Paul applies the word hilasterion to Jesus, designating him the seal of the Ark of the Covenant and thus as the locus of the presence of the living God, the entire Old Testament theology of worship (and with it all the theologies of worship in the history of religions) is “preserved and surpassed” [aufgehoben] and raised to a completely new level. Jesus himself is the presence of the living God. God and man, God and the world, touch one another in him. The meaning of the ritual of the Day of Atonement is accomplished in him. In his self-offering on the Cross, Jesus, as it were, brings all the sin of the world deep within the love of God and wipes it away. Accepting the Cross, entering into fellowship with Christ, means entering the realm of transformation and expiation.”

– from Chapter 2 of Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011

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