Jesus the Ransom for Many

How many movies and television shows have been made over the decades that involve at an innocent person being kidnapped or taken hostage. And why did the perpetrator do such a heinous act? Unlike the many of the recent nihilistic criminals and terrorist, whose sole purpose is to kill and destroy, the kidnapper of old was seeking some sort of reward, financial or otherwise. And this reward is called a ransom. In these older movies, we see friends and family of the victim trying to gather together a large sum of money in order to pay the perpetrator to gain the release of their loved one taken hostage. Now ransom is an interesting word because it functions as both the verb and the noun. So it is both the action of paying to win the release of a captive and the payment itself.

In today’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:32-45), from the Fifth Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, we hear Jesus mention the word ransom. In the last verse (v.45) He says, 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” This one of only three times the word is mentioned in the New Testament: this one and the from the same account in Mt.20:28 and the Apostle Paul 5For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself a ransom [antilytron] for all, to be testified in due time, (1Timothy 2:5-6).

The Greek form of ransom is ‘lytron’ which also carries the equal connotation of ‘redemption’ (lytrosin). When we hear or use the word redeem we might think of coupons or gift certificates that we redeem to get a discounted price on goods and services. But when the words ‘ransom,’ ‘redeem’ or ‘redemption’ are used in the Scriptures, it is not usually about commercial exchange. In the Greek, both lytron and lytrosin have the same root ‘ly’ which means to loose or untie, to set free.

During St. Basil’s Liturgy, which we celebrate on the Sundays of Great Lent, the priest prays the great High Prayer or Anaphora. This long prayer has a section which explains the dynamic of Jesus giving Himself as ransom:

For, since through man sin came into the world and through sin, death; it pleased Your only-begotten Son, (who is in Your bosom, God and Father, born of a woman, the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary) born under the law, to condemn sin in His flesh, so that those who died in Adam may be brought to life in Him, Your Christ….He gave Himself as ransom to death in which we were held captive, sold under sin. Descending into Hades through the cross, that He might fill all things with Himself, He loosed the bonds of death. He rose on the third day, having opened a path for all flesh to resurrection from the dead, since it was not possible that the Author of life would be dominated by corruption….Do this in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this Bread and drink this Cup, you proclaim my death, and you confess my resurrection.

Just like God sent Moses to the Israelites in Egypt to deliver them from the captivity of slavery under Pharoah, God sends Jesus Christ into the world to deliver the whole race of humanity from the captivity of slavery to sin under the devil. Satan is the perpetrator who has taken us hostage through the deception of sin. The ransom Lucifer demanded is our loyalty and allegiance. We could not and we cannot set ourselves free. It’s like being in a jail cell without the key to the lock. Jesus came down from heaven to earth as a man, a human being to show us how to live. But He went even farther. He descended from earth to Hades through the Cross to show us how to die. Jesus is like the hero in the movies who offers himself or herself as a ransom so that hostage(s) may be set free.

This is not really a mystery in the sense that Jesus stated His intent on the very first day of His earthly ministry. Reading from the scroll of Isaiah in the Temple, He said: 18"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; (Luke 4:18)

The mystery is that Jesus disciples thought He was going to establish an earthly kingdom and rule as king with great power to force His enemies to bow down before Him. Instead, Jesus allows Himself to be taken captive, to be tried and executed as a common criminal. What a scandal? No wonder the disciples tried to prevent it just like in the movies, family members and friends try to prevent the hero or heroine from offering themselves as a ransom, to take the place of and become the hostage.

As we close today we must remember that even though Jesus became a ransom for all people of all time, He must become our personal ransom. In other words, the redemption He provides cannot be imposed on any person against his or her will. Neither can it be given to people who are indifferent or lukewarm to this great gift of deliverance. It must be received and accepted willingly, earnestly. And this willingness is not a mere ascent to the idea in one’s mind but a real sacrifice of mind, body and soul. Remember, the ransom the devil wants is your allegiance and loyalty. There is no middle road. It’s a binary choice. It’s either yes or no. It’s black and white. If you don’t love God will all your heart, with all you mind, with all your strength and with all your soul, and your neighbor as yourself, your allegiance is not with God. Your loyalty is with someone else—an idol of your own making. Ask yourself, if Christ gave Himself to ransom me from death, do not I owe Him my entire life—not just part of it? Amen!