I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.
I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.
You can find the previous posts here.
III. The Son
5. Was Jesus Sinful?
The humanity assumed by the Word was sinful; otherwise, what would be the salvific point of the incarnation if the humanity assumed by the Word was already perfect?
While perhaps the incarnate Word did not commit sin against God or others (would he have been fully human had he done so?), the humanity which the Word assumed suffered the effects of sin.
That is, the incarnate Word was tempted as sinful humanity is tempted. The incarnate Word feared death as humanity, because of sin, fears death. The incarnate Word experienced the conflicts provoked by poverty and political oppression, which are themselves brought about by humanity’s sinfulness.
In this way, then, it’s insufficient for Christians to profess that the Word took flesh.
The Word not only takes on humanity, the Word contends with (sinful) humanity in order to perfect it over the course of his incarnate life.
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself…”
– 2 Corinthians 5.19
6. Did Jesus Commit Sin?
The theologians say no.
The Canaanite woman would probably say yes
Traditionally, Christian theology precludes such a thought, for theories of the atonement rely upon the conviction that Jesus did not commit sin.
He is without sin, living the authentically human (i.e., sinless) life that humanity in Adam’s wake cannot live for itself. It’s his perfection, in which we all have a share by virtue of the incarnation, that saves us. It’s his blamelessness before God that allows him to suffer sin’s penalty in our guilty stead.
So no- the theological systems assert- Jesus could not have committed sin.
Unfortunately the gospel texts often seem disinterested in buttressing doctrine and answering questions they felt no need to ask.
What scripture presents instead is a picture of Jesus that resists the neat, a priori categories established for him by theologians.
For example, Jesus humiliates a Canaanite woman by calling her a ‘dog,’ a 1st century derogatory term for Israel’s oldest and original enemy. Perhaps it doesn’t qualify as a sin but it definitely marrs our assumptions about Jesus being without blemish.
By refusing to condemn the woman caught in adultery, Jesus ignores the clear Yahweh-given commands in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Exodus and Numbers.
In pursuing his Kingdom mission and constituting a new family as an alternative to his biological one, Jesus, as Mary’s eldest son, forsakes his Torah-mandated responsibility to care for his widowed mother, which violates the 5th commandment.
The Pharisees are correct about Jesus: by presuming to forgive the sins of others, he sinfully claims the role reserved for God alone.
Their indictment against Jesus is true if spuriously motivated: by claiming to be the Son of Man, Jesus commits the ultimate sin- blasphemy. He breaks the first commandment, making of himself an idol above and before the one, true Lord.
While theological systems have no room for a Jesus who committed sin, the scripture texts portray him as doing just that until it lands him on a cross.
Of course, if he is who he claims to be- the Son of Man- then our theological systems, in their need to emphasize his unblemished, atoning humanity, obscure the gospels’ primary claim: that Jesus is Lord.
And if he’s Lord then it’s not clear how the Law-giver can be said to be a Law-breaker. A sinner.
However, if he’s Lord- if God is like Jesus, exactly- then neither is it clear how we can say God demands the suffering and death of a sinless human creature.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
– 1 Peter 1.19