Holy Week with Herbert: The Father Didn’t Send the Son to Die

Jason Micheli —  March 21, 2016 — 4 Comments

I’m marking Holy Week again by reading the work of the late Herbert McCabe, a Dominican philosopher who had a gift for articulating the ancient Christian tradition in concise, clear, crisp prose.


“In the first place, it seems to me that Jesus clearly did not want to die on the cross. He was not crazy, he was not a masochist, and we are, of course, told that he prayed to his Father to save him from this horrible death. Matthew, Mark and Luke all picture him as terrified and miserable and obviously panicking in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He came through this terror to a kind of calm in accepting the will of his Father, but he is quite explicit that it is not his will- ‘not my will but thine be done.’

He did want to accept his Father’s will even if it meant the cross, but he most certainly did not want to the cross itself.

Well, then, did the Father want Jesus to be crucified?

And, if so, why?

The answer as I see it is again: No.

The mission of Jesus from the Father is not the mission to be crucified; what the Father wished is that Jesus should be human.

Any minimally intelligent people proposing to become parents know that their children will have lives of suffering and disappointment and perhaps tragedy, but this is not what they wish for them; what they wish is that they should be fully alive, be human.

And this is what Jesus sees as a command laid upon him by his Father in heaven; the obedience of Jesus to the Father is to be totally, completely human. This is his obedience, an expression of his love for the Father; the fact that to be human is to be crucified is not something the Father has directly planned but something we have arranged.

We have made a world in which there is no way of being human that does not lead to suffering and crucifixion.

Jesus accepted the cross in love and obedience and his obedience was to the command to be fully human.

Let me explain what I mean. As I see it, Jesus, not Adam, was the first human being, the first member of the human race in which humanity came to fulfillment, the first human being for whom to live was simply to love- and this is what beings are for.

The aim of human life is to live in friendship- a friendship amongst ourselves which in fact depends upon a friendship God has established between ourselves and God.

When we encounter Jesus, in whatever way we encounter him, he strikes a chord in us; we resonate with him because he shows the humanity that lies more hidden in us- the humanity of which we are afraid.

He is the human being we dare not be.

He takes the risks of love which we recognize as risks and so for the most part do not take.”

– Good Friday: The Mystery of the Cross

Jason Micheli


4 responses to Holy Week with Herbert: The Father Didn’t Send the Son to Die

  1. “[Jesus the Christ] is the human we dare not to be.”

    I’m using that one, it’s going into the permanent record. Thanks deeply for it.

  2. I can’t seem to silence the overlapping recordings of the sermon to just read. Is there a way to fixthis

  3. James O’Quinn March 22, 2016 at 4:31 PM

    Thank you for the thoughts. I will ponder this more. My reaction is coupled with two cautionary questions: 1. Does this thinking of Jesus as first human open the door for gnosticism? 2. How does this approach fit with classical expressions of the atonement?

    • In ref to gnosticism, how do you mean?
      McCabe at times sounds as though he’s operating with an adoptionist Christology that makes Jesus primarily a human actor in the passion. I think instead he’s working out, in this case, how the human nature of Jesus might’ve understood his death. He’s also stressing the humanity of the story itself by calling attention to the political nature of the story. Pilate, for example, was operating with a volition all his own by doing away with Jesus. We miss much of the story when we focus solely on the theological explanations that have accrued around the story. We need both, not one or the other.

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