THOUGHTS ON GOOD FRIDAY
REMEMBERING THE “GLORIOUS REBEL”
(The revolutionary face of the God of nonviolence)
A FRIDAY noon, almost two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ was crucified on Calvary, the hill outside the city of Jerusalem. (Calvary in its Latin origin means ‘the place of a skull’). Being nailed to two pieces of wood and abandoned to the torment of a lingering death was a particularly inhuman form of punishment reserved by the ancient Romans for the worst criminals. Christ’s real crime was simply that he spoke the truth, which is intolerable to all forms of authority – but especially ecclesiastical. By what he said and did, he exposed men who, in the name of institutional religion, wielded power without moral sanction. Christ had to be killed because the truth he said threatened the very foundation of their system of power, privilege and profit.
Jesus of Nazareth, born into a carpenter’s family, lived a sage and simple life and chose his disciples from a weaker section of society — indigent fishermen. The life of Jesus was absolute simplicity, matchless humility and compassionate humanity. He washed the feet of his disciples, he defined godist superstition. To share and care for your neighbour, even your enemy, were the fundamentals he taught. He was thus a pioneer of world brotherhood, who advocated freedom from dogmas and obscurantist cults. Such a universalism is the testament of Jesus.
Christ turned the world's accepted norms upside down. It was the poor, not the rich, who were blessed; the weak, not the strong, who were to be esteemed; the pure in heart, not the sophisticated and the worldly, who understood what life was all about. Righteousness, not power or money or sensual pleasure should be man's pursuit. We should love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them that despitefully use us, in order that we may be worthy members of a human family. On the outskirts of the dying Roman civilisation, he spoke of dying in order to live. Today, when human civilisation is likewise dying, his words have the same awe-inspiring relevance as they had then.
He symbolised a revolutionary change in the theological-temporal establishment and advocated social justice and divinity, dignity and equity in the social order. He proclaimed the reality of a universal moral order. He called it the kingdom of heaven and told the people that the kingdom of god was indeed within them. He outraged the hypocrites who did their commerce inside the temples and the shrines. He drove them out with rare daring.
When the “glorious Rebel” from Nazareth comes upon the woman to be stoned for adultery, he says, "Let the one without sin be the first to cast the stone. When Jesus tells Peter to put his sword back, he is making it clear that he expects the disciples not to give in to the culture of violence and the path of revenge. This unconventional man from Nazareth was "the revolutionary face of the God of nonviolence”.
Jesus resisted the commercialisation of god and the commoditisation of man. Big temples, great churches, god-men, bishops, mullahs and acharyas are anti-Jesus in spirit. What a marvel it was that Jesus preached ages ago — that God was equal in granting his favours to all, as was the sun!
Jesus advocated the unity and fraternity of humanity, like the doctrine of Advaita that Adi Sankara propagated as an Upanishadic fundamental. Not only did he strike at patriotism and the bonds of family loyalty in the name of God’s universal fatherhood and the brotherhood of all mankind, his teaching condemned all the gradations of the economic system, all private wealth, and personal advantage. He said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God
Jesus opposed the culture of violence in his time with an inner peace and a startling love of his enemies. He was a troublemaker for the religious elite, the rulers, the war-making Roman Empire, and the establishment. Jesus' command to love our enemies is a daring proposal that has radical implications. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said: "Love for our enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of the world”. Sadly enough, Christians have deigned to live by this ethic. Wars are waged in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and itching to wage in Iran and other places with fierce hatred for the “enemy’, and patriotism is invoked as we are ordered to follow the commander-in-chief of American Forces, instead of the command of Jesus.
Christ’s crucifixion serves as a reminder that saviours have to die for their faith and to pay for the sins of their own brethren. Jesus was such a man, and so were Mahavira and Buddha before him and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr almost two thousand years later. What binds them, despite the minor differences in their beliefs, is their fearlessness and their peace with those beliefs. Each was far, far ahead of his time. Each had to speak in parable, in allegory, if he hoped to be even understood.
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Good Friday, 2012
Responses to “Thoughts on Good Friday”
Thanks Benjamin for such exhilarating thought. It is simple and succinct, plain and profound. Hope you have plans to publish all such thoughts in the form of a book. I often think of you and ask for your help towards my dream project of writing something like With Theological Backbone: Stanly Samartha on Religious Plurality. WE can collect information about his boyhood days for the first biographical section. Have you been to his village/town? Are you in contact with Mrs Irish Samartha? In the meantime, I propagate Samartha's unique position of Commitment and Openness as acknowledged by his Dutch scholar who has done a PhD on him.
May you continue to prosper and your mind fertile. God Bless.
Rev Dr Israel Sevanayagam
Professor, Dept of Religions
Gurukul Theological College and Research Institute
94 Purasawalkam High Road
Kilpuak, Chennai - 600 010, INDIA
Thanks for this very meaningful reflection !
Rev.Dr.M.Mani Chacko, Ph.D( Lond.)
The Bible Society of India
'LOGOS', # 206, Mahatma Gandhi Road
Bangalore- 560 001
Tel : 080 - 4112 4714, 4112 4715, 4151 2580 ( O )
080 - 25599020 ( R )
E. Mail : modayilmanichacko
Dear Mr. Benjamin
Loving greetings to you
Thank you for the Good Friday Message.
May God bless you and your loved ones now and at Easter
fr adolf washington
Thanks Ben ...for the wonderful thoughts.
It is not as if people DON'T understand what Jesus taught the mankind.
it is just that man finds it extremely difficult to get out of the
layers and layers of the prison-walls of personal weaknesses and
awesome institutional challenges.
Personal weaknesses such as greed for material waelth, power and
eminence, selfishness, self-centred-ness, fear of the unknown, hatred,
contempt, anger, ignorance, lack of disicretion between what is good
and what is bad, lack of patience, tolerence and wisdom, lack of
consideration, compassion and understanding...the list is simply
endless..and getting rid of one's major weaknesses takes a whole life
time ( as we all know by our own self-experience ).
The only way out is ...keep talking and thinking about those great
minds and martyrs like Jesus all the time and keep comparing our own
petty deeds with their great lives...They are too great for such a
comparison...but still...compare we MUST..
If we all decide to write a a diary of all the good and bad deeds we
did during the course of our day and record it at night before going
to sleep..with a resolve not to repeat any of the bad deeds and not to
commit fresh misdeeds....Can we achieve a fraction of what God wants
us to be ? ...
The only way is to keep on trying..till the last breath.....to be
better human beings..than we have all along been..
This could be one magnifiscent obsession spanning our entire life
time...and May be some of us would achieve great success and all of
us too...though in varying degrees...If we DON'T God will send Jesus
a second time around...to try to redeem us...
so long humanity is destined to live on this planet...more than any of
us ...God will never give up ..He will keep on trying..so long as at
least some of us make the effort to try to improve one's own self as a
better human being than before.
Thanks Ben ! have a Great Friday !
Love and regards