“The ‘Good Friday’ is a gift for all people” :What did Jesus Really Say on the “Good Friday”?
Some two thousand years ago, it was a Friday like this one that Jesus was put on trial before a ruthless juror, consisted of both religious leaders and politicians, that found him guilty for a crime he did not commit. As reported in the Gospels, the common people, both Jews and Gentiles, actively participated in Jesus’ unfair trial. He appeared before Pontius Pilate, the powerful political figure and state agent, who determined his fate, not his future.
Further, historians tell us that the judgment and the final verdict leading to the death penalty, burial, and annihilation of Jesus happened on a Friday– what is commonly called the “Good Friday” or “Holy Friday” in the Christian sacred/liturgical calendar. Arguably, the death of Jesus was a state-sponsored violent death and ruthless execution. The death of Jesus is a demonstration of the problem of justice in society and the bankruptcy of the legal system in the world. By implications, it invites us to think responsibly and ethically, for example, about the problem of mass incarceration of black males in the United States. Like Jesus, many of the prisoners and felons currently serving a sentence (some a “life sentence”) are wrongly accused of a crime they did not commit.
Yet while Jesus was still hanging on a cross made up of old and rugged wood, somewhat analogous and parallel to the America’s terrorized lynching tree in which many thousands of falsely-accused blacks breathed their last breath in the American society, he spoke seven powerful and beautiful words that narrate an intricate rapport between God and humanity, human vulnerability and strength, despair and hope, grace and forgiveness, inclusion and acceptance, redemption and justice, love and hospitality, etc.
On this “Good Friday,” as we continue to remember Jesus, I invite you to reflect upon the meaning and implications of the seven last sayings of Christ:
1. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46).
The first saying of Jesus establishes the paradoxical rapport between the good and holy God and the problem of divine justice upon the bearer of sin. In Christianity, it is believed that Jesus is the bearer of everybody’s punishment from God because everyone sins; sin is a transgression against a holy and righteous God, the Creator and Redeemer of all people. When someone sins, he or she becomes an instant violator of God’s moral law and ethical virtues, and everyone falls in this category.
Hence, the saying by Jesus, while being lynched on the wooden-cross, indicates the following threefold message: (1) sin creates alienation between God and human beings, but it is never too deep to stop the divine love and grace; (2) sin creates alienation and distance between individuals in society, but it does create the possibility for reconciliation and to do life together again; and (3) sin does not have the final word and does not determine one’s future and final destiny. Rather, it is one’s personal attitude and response to the death of Christ that determines the nature of one’s relationship to God the Creator. In other words, the death of Christ calls for a decision from every individual, and this decision is personal and existential, and it also involves Jesus the Christ and Jesus the Savior of all people.
2. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Forgiveness is always a human possibility and a wonderful gift of reconnection and readjustment, between God and individuals, individuals from the same clan or people from different communities.
Forgiveness is not only about human relationships and interplays; it may engage two nations or governments that were once in enmity with one another. Forgiveness fosters the possibility for global peace and mutual collaboration between the nations and leaders of the world.
Every individual has an opportunity to start life again once being forgiven and reconciled with one another. Every nation has the capacity to forge strong links of friendship and hospitality, and to perform intentional acts of kindness toward one another–once forgiveness is achieved.
Forgiveness is an active attitude and a human force that compel us to seek reconciliation and peace; it welcomes friendship and defers exclusion, and teaches us vulnerability, teamwork, and humility.
The triumph of humanity in this world does not rest upon a blossomed capitalist market nor does it entail forces of competition toward greatness and status; rather, the success of humanity in this age lies in our willingness to forgive and map out a new path together. Forgiveness changes our attitude from being a master to be a servant.
Consequently, in this saying from the lips of Jesus, Jesus extends the gift of forgiveness to his abusers, exploiters, oppressors, and even to those who have planned his death. That’s the example that marks the Christ-event on the cross, and this is how the cross speaks to humanity and to each individual. This is what it means to follow Jesus in proximity and to be a friend of God. In this way, ever person is called urgently to imitate Christ and to pursue the mind of Christ in all things.
3. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
The gift of paradise is not a place in another world or a metaphysical residence. It is a conferred status upon receiving divine grace and favor and having been interrupted radically by divine love and kindness. Paradise means divine presence and interpenetration, and christocentric unity and indwelling.
Paradise is an invitation to participate in Christ and to be one with him in this world and the one to come. In the third saying, Jesus the Christ begins with and thus invites one individual, who was a decisive and condemned thief by the Roman Empire and a stranger to Jesus, to be in paradise with him; that individual stands for every human being in the world and the beneficiary of every subsequent invitation offered by Jesus–inclusively to every boy and girl, man and woman, male and female, homosexual and lesbian, transgender and cisgender, and every individual fashioned in the image of God. This invitation id inclusive for it crosses class, ethnic, racial, political, ideological, and geo-political lines and borders. Yet it comes with a measure of substantial responsibility and radical transformation, what Jesus himself called “the new birth.” Everyone who is invited to Christ’s paradise must be “born again.”
4. “Dear Woman, here is your son!” and “Here is your mother!” When Jesus recognized His mother standing near the cross with the Apostle John, He entrusted His mother’s well-being to John’s responsibility. (John 19:26-27).
In this fourth declaration by Christ, he directly validates the dignity and humanity of women, and concurrently, he establishes the intimate bond and relationship between a mother and a son. In the same vein, “The Christ” affirms that life is a gift that generates from women; yet its ultimate origin is divine and mysterious.
Life as a gift from both God and women, correspondingly, requires the urgency to be part of a community and the pressing existential need to live and walk together in connection with one another; indiscriminate human hospitality is connected with the good life and successful human existence. Thus, Jesus could entrust the welfare of his dear mother to John’s sacred task or responsibility.
5. “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
The fifth statement of “The Christ” indicates his vulnerability as a person and as an individual who can relate to human (our) suffering, pain, and sorrows. The underlying message of this statement signals that the person of Christ is relatable and relational, and that he is no stranger to time and space, and to humanity. He is severely touched by human fragility and weakness, and radically subject to human nature and the spontaneity of life.
6. “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
The sixth claim of “The Christ” is the most powerful human speech ever uttered to God, the Maker of heavens and earth, and the Redeemer of human beings and the cosmos. “It is finished” gives a clear indication of a (divine) commission that was now executed and fulfilled by the messenger. At this point in the conversation, Jesus once again affirms his divine appointment as the final messenger of the immortal and gracious God.
This rhetoric of affirmation and attainment is not only associated with Jesus’ redemptive task; by implication or inference, this saying is intimately linked to the divine origin and identity of “The Christ.” This is the basis for human salvation and redemption, achieved through divine love in the Son of God, who died sacrificially for the world–as biblical writers unapologetically attest.
Finally, this claim by Jesus, like his sacrificial death, has become the most transformative cosmic event in human history that ensures restoration and friendship, reconciliation and peace with God. It also paves the way and potentially guarantees the possibility for human reconciliation and peace, with one another.
7. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).
Because every life has its origin in God, the spirit of every person and every animate thing likewise has its source in God our Maker. To commit one’s life to God is not a decision that should be postponed for the future, or in the next life to come, or even at the point of one’s death. Commitment here means an instantaneous decision and existential responsibility. Ultimately, it affirms that our life is not our own; it belongs to God, the great steward of (human) life and existence.
Peace and Blessings,
Dr. Celucien L. Joseph