By M. Omorovie Ikeke
The day on which Jesus died is marked as Good Friday by many Christians and others. It is a day in which Christians go to churches to offer special prayers and celebrate him.
Christians remember the reason he died for the redemption of human beings and all creation. While some Christians don’t believe he died on Good Friday, nonetheless they believe he died and that his death has significance for the human condition. Some have often wondered and asked, “Why to call the day on which Jesus died, Good Friday?” “Is it not a day of sorrow and sadness?” “What is good in his death?” Some have even opined, “It should be called a Black Friday.”
Whether one believes he died on Good Friday or not, the fact is that he died and the memory of his death is worth celebrating. It is worth celebrating for the life of Jesus has had and continues to make a positive impact on all of humanity. I firmly propound that the long quotation attributed to James Allan Francis who lived from 1864–1928 in “One Solitary Life” vividly captures the quintessential of the impactful life of Jesus.
“Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home… While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat. When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centrepiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.”
Every human life makes an impact in this world. That impact could be positive or negative. The apostle Paul in Romans 14 verse 7 states that: “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” There is no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth lived a noble, good, glorious and impactful life. His death is connected to the message for which he lived. The tragedy often is that many Christians cut off the death of Jesus from the life he lived and the message he preached. His life and message precede his death. There is no meaning in his death if not for the life and message.
Though brutally extra-judicially murdered by Pontius Pilate (representative of Rome) and the Jewish religious establishment, his death is a good death. He accepted it willingly and lovingly as the consequence of being a prophet. Jesus knew the eventual outcome of the prophetic ministry.
In his critique of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, he relates how Israel had stoned, killed, flogged the prophets that God had sent to them from Abel to Zechariah (cf. Matthew 23:33-38). He equally asserted that he will be killed. His death is not an accident. While the life and message of Jesus open some vistas to understanding his death, his actions concerning the temple hold a cardinal opening to understanding his death. Concerning the offense behind Jesus’ death; Thomas P Rausch in “Who is Jesus? An Introduction to Christology” writes citing N.T. Wright that his dramatic action regarding the temple is one main reason for his execution. Rausch avers further that Jesus speaks of the end of the temple and drives out the moneychangers and traders thus cutting off the supply of animals to the temple. The religious leaders have to act to protect their temple cult and positions of power. The image of a rejected prophet is central to the death of Jesus.
In “Christology as Narrative Quest,” Michael L Cook writes that: “Jesus was a prophet sent to his people and rejected, but in his death and resurrection he has ‘rejected rejection’ and enabled his followers to do likewise.” Citing Virgil P Elizondon, Cook states that: “Jesus appears in the New Testament as the aggressive prophet of non-violent love who refuses to conform to the violence of the structures in full loyalty to the tradition of the God of his people…” This piece does not in any way imply that this is the only way to see the death of Jesus. For instance, the redemptive motif for the death of Jesus is equally important, if not more important.
Because of the life he had lived and for which he died and rose, Christians and many others accept him as the saviour, the liberator, the freedom giver, the messiah, and the hope of humanity. His death makes sense. It behoves Christians and indeed all to accept his principles and values. These values include non-violence, universal love, unconditional forgiveness, works of mercy, etc. These values can serve not only as signposts but the reality of how life should be lived. Out of this one life of Jesus has emerged Christianity and all her institutions that continue to impact the world. On this Good Friday, we remember the goodness of his life and commit ourselves to follow his example.
Ikeke is a priest of Catholic Diocese of Warri and Associate Professor of Philosophy, Delta State University, Abraka.