What does a fish have to do with Jesus? During persecutions, the first Christians used the sign of a fish as a secret means of identification. The letters in the Greek word for “fish” (ichthus) were the first letters of the Greek words “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”
A glance at any daily newspaper today reveals that there is something dreadfully wrong with the world and with us. Reflecting on his tendency to sin, St. Paul asked, “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” (Romans 7:24) Sin, suffering, and death seem to hold us captive. We need a savior. Christians believe that Jesus saved the human race. Jesus, the Son of God, broke the power of evil over us by lowering himself to become a human being and then suffering, dying, and rising. These actions on our behalf reveal how utterly God loves us.
Jesus is our Redeemer. To redeem something is to pay a price to win it back. Slaves were redeemed (or ransomed) when someone paid for them to be set free. Because of the original sin of our first parents, we were slaves. We had lost the right to be children of God and heirs of heaven. Sin and death held us in bondage. Jesus set us free by paying the price of his own blood shed on the cross. Through his obedience and suffering he brought us back to God, to God's grace and life. We say he made atonement for our sins. In other words, he made us to be “at one” with God again. He repaired our friendship with God. Now we can overcome sin and share divine life eternally with God in heaven. This is the hope of all who call Jesus Savior.
Jesus was able to be Savior because he was fully divine and fully human. As God, he was the only one powerful enough to make up for the offense of the human race. As a human being, he was able to represent us. So Jesus freely took on himself the sins of the world and ransomed us by his sacrifice.
Through faith and baptism we are united with the death and resurrection of Jesus. At each Eucharist we celebrate that Jesus has set us free. During Mass he makes his saving actions present again, and we are able to enter into them. Each year during the seasons of Lent and Easter, we recall and celebrate God's saving acts.
The cross, once the instrument of torture and death, has become a symbol of God's love for us. We set it on buildings, display it on walls, and wear it around our necks. We bless ourselves with the sign of the cross.
Someone expressed what Jesus means to us this way: “In Jesus all broken lines unite; in him all scattered sounds are gathered into harmony.”
† Hail Cross, our only hope! †