What Makes Jesus’ Sacrifice Special?

As we enter into Holy Week, let’s take a few minutes to answer the question: What makes Jesus’ sacrifice special? I gleaned many of the ideas here from a March 21, 2009 column by Father Ronald Rolheiser.

Father begins by saying it is one thing to love when you are surrounded by love. But it is another thing to love when you are surrounded by misunderstanding, jealousy, cruelty, and hatred.

It is one thing to hang on to your ideals when those ideals are shared with others around you. But it is another thing to hang on to your ideals when you feel you are standing alone.

(All photos by Pixabay)

It is one thing to keep your balance when the rhythm of life supports it. But it is another thing to keep your balance when life is unfair and, when, like on Good Friday, it gets dark in the middle of the day.

It is one thing to be kind and gracious when others around you are kind and gracious. But it is another thing to be kind and gracious when everyone is criticizing you, mocking you, or saying terrible things about you.

It is one thing to forgive others when “the wound dealt you is not mortal.” But it is another thing to forgive someone when the wound that is dealt you is mortal.

It is one thing to give your life to your family, community, or God when you feel loved and supported by them. But it is another thing to give your life to them when you don’t feel love and supported by them—or anyone.

Says Rolheiser, “These contrasts capture, in essence, what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. His passion was a drama of the heart, not an endurance test for the body.” Perhaps we have emphasized Jesus’ physical sufferings to the detriment of his deeper suffering. Rolheiser calls this deeper suffering: Jesus’ moral loneliness.

The Gospels emphasize Jesus’ aloneness. He was betrayed, misunderstood, and humiliated. Those who loved him fell asleep in the garden, his darkest hour. Then, when he was arrested, they ran away, deserting him in his time of need. Says Rolheiser, this moral aloneness “tempted him against everything he had preached and stood for during his ministry in life.” What made his sacrifice special was not that he was a victim of violence. No, what made his death so special was that, despite his aloneness and darkness, despite being surrounded by a sea of injustice and cruelty, Jesus “gave himself over, without bitterness, without self-pity, holding his ideals intact, gracious, respectful, forgiving, without losing his balance, his meaning, his message.”

Writer Alice Camille also underscores the specialness of Jesus’ sacrifice in an article she wrote for Living with Christ, March 2023 issue. She writes, “Jesus accepted death on a cross for sinners, not for perfected souls. At our most unlovable, then, God chooses to love us. Sound crazy? Only because we are not very good at loving people who are not on their best behavior.”

Prayer: Jesus, your sacrifice on the cross was special. I desire to love others as you love us. So I ask for these graces: To love even when I don’t feel much love around me… To live my ideals even when I feel I am standing alone in them… To keep my balance even when life seems unfair… To be respectful and gracious even when I encounter disrespect, coldness, and hatred… To forgive others even when it seems impossible to do so. I ask for your divine help to follow you “more nearly” in your way of sacrifice and love. Amen.


For reflection:

Do any words or phrases in this reflection stand out for you? If so, which–and why?

Have you ever felt “moral loneliness”? If so, what was that experience like for you?

Do any of today’s pictures touch your heart today?

When we light the Easter candle at the Holy Saturday vigil Mass, the priest says these words: May the Light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our minds and hearts. Then the priest or deacon takes the candle and processes to the altar, singing three times: The light of Christ! To which the people respond: Thanks be to God! The song I chose for this week is Bernadette Farrell’s beautiful “Christ, Be Our Light.” This version has some beautiful and challenging images to accompany our words.

Once again, I invite you to respond below to anything in this reflection… or to add your own thoughts on Jesus’ sacrifice and love.


  1. John E Hopkins on April 3, 2023 at 5:36 am

    Good morning, Sr. Melannie…

    First, may your Holy Week be free of distraction, grounded and rooted in this purple mystery of death and life, and soul changing.

    Father Rolheiser is a wise priest. The words “Jesus’ moral loneliness” offer, to me, a new insight to an old story that never gets old.

    In her reflection on the Palm Sunday Passion narrative in Give Us This Day, Kimberly Hope Belcher writes that “the centurion, unlike Peter, is able to again call Jesus ‘Son of God.'” She also observes that even the rocks cried out in protest.

    So much to think about!

  2. Joanne Bennardo on April 3, 2023 at 8:35 am

    Good morning,
    We enter into Holy Week with its outrageous contradictions of severe suffering and death erupting into Joy and our salvation. How are our minds to grasp this divine mystery, this love poured forth beyond measure for our sakes? Our feeble responses to our giving and forgiving God can never repay, but may we ease His “moral loneliness” of Good Friday by embracing the gift of miracle that we are invited to share with one another.
    May the profound blessings affected through Christ’s Sufferings and Joy benefit the good fruits of all in this world at this time.

  3. Nancy Frederico on April 6, 2023 at 12:33 am

    Good Holy Week to Everyone.

    Thank you Sr Melannie for this reflection and especially for the photos. All of them spoke to my heart especially the last one depicting the stiffness of Christ’s Body.
    It seems this year more than any other year, I seem to be more attentive to the daily readings. At sunset tonight, Passover begins as we commemorate Jesus’ arrest (right after celebrating Passover with his Apostles). The day before we listened how Jesus washed the feet of his apostles…Fr. mentioned how Jesus knew his betrayers, Judas and Peter and yet, still washed their feet. Another reading displayed the lonliness in the Garden and another the so-called wastefulness of expensive Nard.These readings are filled with such human emotion which correlates to your above reflection Sister. I pray that I can
    give some comfort to Our Blessed Lord during the upcoming days of the Triduum as I would a dear Friend.
    How much more so to the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
    The writings you share point us toward selfless giving amidst difficult people and situations. I will try very hard to overlook much as part of my giving some ounce of comfort to Our Dear Savior and His Mother.
    Happy Easter to All!

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