When considering the sonship of Jesus Christ, two important aspects to consider are 1) the nature of this sonship – what is it, how can we perceive it in light of the one, triune God? And 2) what does this sonship mean for humanity – how does it transform our imagination and understanding of our lives?
First, if we consider God the Father, then this implies the existence of a Son, who is Jesus Christ. As Ratzinger says, “Without Jesus, we do not know what “Father” truly is.” We understand Jesus to live in “uninterrupted prayerful communication” with God, and this is fundamental to his existence. Communication provides that both entities are involved, and for this to be interrupted means there is nothing that separates or disturbs this connection. Indeed “it is just as essential to the Father to say “Son” as it is essential to the Son to say “Father” (34).
A passage from Matthew’s gospel expresses this reciprocity of relationship – and additionally testifies to the identity – of the Father and Son: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). More than a constant connection between the Father and the Son, this reveals that the Father and the Son are indeed the same God. If one can only know the Father through the Son, then the Son is indeed of the same substance as the Father, for “God can be known only through God” (Ratzinger 90).
This is the foundation for the sonship of Jesus Christ, who is the Son. The action of this sonship is then extended to humanity through the Incarnation, and the significance of this is made clear through the Cross. The characteristic aspect of this sonship is “the release and handing back of himself” (Ratzinger 67). In his Incarnation, the Son, as Jesus Christ, voluntarily offered himself in complete obedience to the full reality of humanity.
Ratzinger refers to a passage from Philippians that knits together what all this sonship entails, and helps me in my attempt to better understand it: “…Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God” – consubstantial with the Father – “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself” – by His descent and entering into humanity – “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” – in the Incarnation. “And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8).
Following the example of Jesus, we see that it is not through our independence that we become like God, rather, it is through understanding ourselves as “son,” as “child,” and so appropriately offering ourselves as gift, each and every day to God our Father, that this can happen.
“Our salvation means becoming “the body of Christ,” becoming like Christ himself, receiving ourselves from him every day and giving ourselves back every day” (68). It is His sacrifice on the cross which gives us hope. It is through his sonship that Jesus Christ can offer healing for our sins and sufferings – that He redeems us. But it is in our imitation of His sonship and sacrifice that we can be saved.