Jesus as an Agent of Ransom
The Jesus of our gospels is clear about his mission: “the Son of Man is come to seek and save the lost, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 18:11, Luke 19:10). But it is a mistake here to think that he speaks here primarily of his death.
The two halves of the statement (a typical Hebrew parallelism, as in the psalms and provers) define and modify each other: his way of ‘ransoming’ is to ‘seek and save the lost’ by everything he does, and is. For in him the image of God which is the formative core of our own psyches (defaced as it may be in us) shines with particular intensity; in him the eternally-springing Life of the Divine itself is at work in a fully human nature. And so he is already ‘resurrection and life’ to ‘those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,’ as St. Luke describes the mission. Which is to say he brings ransom by his very life-force, not just his dying.
If you are the leper begging for cleansing along the roadside, he ransoms you, redeems you, right then and there, from the exile of your leprosy. If you are the beloved daughter of the centurion, he ransoms you from your death coma (and highly probable death) by reaching deeply into your soul with such intimate words of love: talitha, cumi. If you are bound by the guilt or consequences of your sin, his startling words of forgiveness and his even more surprising command to take up your bed and walk jolts you out of the dark pit you were in, ransoms you back into active life. After all the word ‘ransom’ means to be delivered from evil of any and every kind, internal or external.
But what’s the payment then? Ransoming captives or redeeming something in a pawn shop involves ‘paying’ the ransom. Work like casting out demons (or working with the insane, if you prefer), like healing diseases, surrounding people with the loving acceptance that releases them from the power of their sins—this kind of work costs. The harder cases don’t work out without ‘prayer and fasting,’ as Jesus tells his disciples who couldn’t heal a convulsive boy.
Such deep dedication can cost one’s very self, the outpouring of one’s soul and spirit, virtually one’s life blood. Ask any dedicated psychologist,psychiatrist, or pastor, any caring social worker, any shamanistic or charismatic healer—even any mother or father knows deep in caring for an infant who needs such care to be ransomed and redeemed from lack of proper brain development.
So Jesus’ death is of a piece with his life. And as the Story is told, his ransoming didn’t even stop when he breathed his last.
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