What is always the first indication in the movies that someone has been kidnapped? The victims, those who have lost the person who has been kidnapped, receive a ransom note demanding some sort of payment or some other demand in return for the kidnapped person. If we have paid attention, we will notice the word “ransom” used quite often within the liturgy and in the Scriptures in relation to Jesus. We hear in our gospel today Jesus proclaim Himself to serve as the ransom for many. When we reach that glorious Mass of the Easter Vigil, we will hear in the Exultet how Christ has “paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father.” What is this ransom, what is this payment of debt?
When humanity fell in the garden due to the first disobedience of our parents, we incurred a tremendous debt towards God. This debt is the debt of sin: sin which goes against the eternal plan of divine justice and divine providence. Compounding on that first sin, humanity seemingly continued to increase that debt each time it failed to live up to the demands and the expectations of God. The more that we sin, the further we are from God and the harder it is to return to Him on our own. In fact, the debt becomes so great but no mere human being is truly capable of freeing themselves, let alone the rest of humanity, from that debt. In the light of this, what can humanity do to be saved, to be freed and released from this debt?
This is why Jesus came into this world: Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, came so that we would be freed from this debt of sin. This debt is so tremendous, only God is capable of removing it. Yet this debt was incurred by man, and man is the one who is meant to repay the debt. This is why the Second Person of the Trinity takes on our flesh, becomes a human being like one of us. The Word became flesh so that, in the flesh, he may bring about the payment, the ransom, which sin has left upon us and which only God is able to actually pay.
This is what the prophets foretold for centuries before the coming of Christ. These prophecies see their peak in what Isaiah tells us in his writings, most especially in the passage we here today. Our first reading today comes from what is commonly called the Suffering Servant song of Isaiah, in which we hear the prophet declare that God's servant will bear the guilt of his people, so that many may be justified. This prophecy is fulfilled in the sufferings of Christ, in the passion which he endures, which He bears for our sins. Through the sufferings of Jesus, and the willing sacrifice He offers on the cross, we are relieved of that ransom, of that debt which we had incurred.
In the letter to the Hebrews, the Apostle shows us a different side of the price Christ pays for our ransom. Jesus is seen as the true High Priest offering the sacrifice which removes all sins. Priests in every religion are constituted to offer a sacrifice to the gods to bring the people closer to the gods and to appease the gods for whatever wrongs the people have committed. Jesus is our priest who brings us closer to God in His very being: in the unity of humanity and divinity found within Him. He is also our priest in offering up the one sacrifice that actually accomplishes this appeasement of God: Jesus offers Himself as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Having removed this ransom which has separated humanity from God and which has kept humanity enslaved to sin, Jesus calls us back to the original divine plan for humanity: the plan for true human happiness and fulfillment. But we are still capable of putting ourselves back into that slavery to sin. We are not forced or coerced into following Christ, into obeying God. Christ calls us to follow after Him, to take up our crosses and join Him. He calls us to a life of service, not a life of ease. He calls us now to warfare, but He promises to the faithful the reward of glory.
Let us rejoice, then, in everything God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Let us give thanks to God for winning us back from sin through Christ our ransom. But let us not put ourselves back in that ransom through our obstinacy or our unwillingness to seek God's forgiveness. Let us imitate Christ in serving God through a life of obedience and humility, not desiring to be served by God, but seeking to repay, in our own way, the good which God has done for us. May we be nourished by the body and blood of Christ, the price of our ransom, so as to remain free of that ransom and to be able to win for ourselves, with the help of God, the seat which God has prepared for us in his eternal kingdom.