Having existed for two millennia, the Church has a well-defined Christology (teachings about the identity and mission of Christ). Sometimes Catholics are confused about their meanings and this is understandable. Many preachers are reluctant to discuss the finer points of theology from the pulpit.
One confusing aspect is whether Jesus needed to be redeemed. He did not. Let’s explore why.
Jesus lived His human life for our salvation, not His.
Jesus became man for our sake. Through His passion, death, and resurrection, He conquered sin and death and opened the gates of heaven to the elect.
In Catholic thought, redemption refers to “buying back” or “ransoming” us from sin and death. We are the ransomed and Christ is the price paid for us.
We need to be ransomed because of the three results of sin: the fault of sin, which wounds us and our relationships; the servitude sin submits us to; and the temporal and eternal punishment due to sin.
Some people treat redemption as if the devil needed payment from God for us to return to the Father. That’s not correct. Why? First, God didn’t need to become man to save us. He could have chosen another way. Second, the devil only has power over us insofar as it is conceded to him by God. God allows us to be tested, so that we may grow in virtue and come to the fullness of love.
God chose to pay the ultimate price through Christ because He saw it as the most fitting way to save us. By dying, Jesus revealed a richer justice, mercy, and love than if He simply pardoned us for our sins. How great our dignity must be if God freely chose to suffer for us.
Jesus didn’t need redemption because He is God. And even though He took on human flesh, He is still a divine person and in full possession of His divine nature.
Christ became like one of us in all things except those incompatible with His divinity. Even though He assumed some of the defects of human nature that are the result of sin (such as hunger and thirst), He did not assume sin. Sin is any thought, word, or deed contrary to the eternal law. But Christ is the eternal law! Therefore, sin would involve Him contradicting His own nature.
Sin also involves turning away from God. As the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus always sees the Father, even in His human nature.
In a sense, Jesus was redeemed.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read of the child Jesus being taken to the Temple to be presented to the Lord in accordance with Jewish law. There is a sense in which this event is a redemption, at least according to the Jewish meaning of the word.
In the Old Testament, “redemption” is associated with the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish people commemorate this great event with many rites, including redemption.
The redemption ceremony in first-century Judaism unfolded like this: The father would take the child to a Levitical priest. The priest would say, “Do you claim this child as your own?” The father would respond, “Yes, I do.” The priest would then require the father to pay money that would “redeem” the child for the father. This is recognition that the child ultimately belongs to God and that He entrusts the child’s care to the family.
Because Jesus was born into a Jewish family, He underwent the redemption rite. So in this sense, He can be said to have been redeemed.
Note: Jesus didn’t need to go through this rite because He is God and has a perfect relationship with the Father. But He saw it fitting to fulfill the precepts of the Old Law, as He transformed them into those of the New Law.
Our Lord is not lost with the lost. He came to seek the lost. He doesn’t need to be redeemed like you and I do.
This Lent, let’s work on taking our own redemption more seriously.