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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: September 18, 2010
This is the sixth column in a 13-part series
By Cackie Upchurch
Director of Little Rock Scripture Study
When Jesus was just an infant, Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem to be consecrated to the Lord. We are told that God’s Spirit had revealed to a righteous and devout man named Simeon that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. Upon Jesus’ arrival Simeon cried out in a mixture of words from Isaiah, “Master, you may let your servant go in peace … for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).
Quite simply, in Jesus the Messiah, salvation has come. What are some lessons we can learn from the Gospels about salvation and what it means to be saved?
Most importantly, salvation is not something that humans accomplish but a reality that God initiates and offers. This belief throughout the Bible is captured in the very name of Jesus which means “Yahweh (or God) saves” (see Matthew 1:21). For the Israelites, that salvation translated into victory — victory in battle, victory over oppressors, and even victory over the chaotic ways of nature. But the Gospel writers have a different type of victory in mind when they speak of salvation.
The offer of salvation is sometimes portrayed as seeking what is lost. In three parables found in Luke 15, we hear about a shepherd seeking out one lost sheep, a woman searching her home for a lost coin, and a heartbroken man welcoming back a son whom he believed he had lost.
And a bit later there is the colorful story of Zaccheus the tax collector, a known sinner whom Jesus visits in his home. "Today salvation has come to this house … for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Victory, or salvation, is manifest in recovering the lost and embracing the alienated.
Another understanding of salvation is freedom from sin, a liberation that can only come from God. Many have argued that more than any other thing, Jesus’ ministry focused on wholeness, often given in the form of forgiveness. He forgave the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the paralytic whose friends brought him to Jesus (Mark 2:1-5), and the woman who anointed him even though she was a known sinner (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus forgave the repentant man crucified beside him (Luke 23:39-43), and he even forgave his own executioners (Luke 23:33-34).
In the Gospels, the followers of Jesus are called to embrace his mission by continuing to follow in his way. This included in a special way the ministry of forgiveness as a sign of the salvation they were called to preach.
Both the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6 stress the practical implications of following in Jesus’ way of forgiveness: loving enemies, refraining from judgment, putting aside anger, and refusing to retaliate. In the end, the followers of Jesus are commissioned to offer this divine forgiveness to all nations (Luke 24:47; John 20:22-23). Salvation is manifest in mercy and forgiveness.
From the Gospels we discover that while salvation is the result of divine initiative, it does require our cooperation and perseverance. In commissioning the Twelve, Jesus offered a word of warning and encouragement: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22; Mark 13:13). Salvation is envisioned here not so much as final entry into heaven but as deliverance from whatever persecution may come from outsiders or even from within one’s family.
Some Christians in our day and age have become preoccupied with how to guarantee their personal salvation, usually meaning how to guarantee eternal life. All of the Synoptic Gospels indicate this is an age old concern that Jesus addressed in his day as well: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24).
The salvation envisioned here is indeed eternal life, but it is eternity that is prefigured in the way one lives in the present. Just as Jesus lived fully the will of God, even unto suffering and losing his life for the sake of others, so too are his disciples called to live. That’s the key to sharing in the resurrection, and thus sharing in eternal life — living for the Gospel, living for others. In this way we embrace the gift of ultimate victory, the fullness of salvation, that is eternal life.
This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic Sept. 18, 2010. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.