Updated: Apr 2, 2021
For me, Good Friday reveals a divine truth about human life. Simply put, humanity has a depthless dark core. Left to ourselves, we will not save each other; we will only save ourselves. Our capacity for violence, injustice, and self-preservation is as limitless as any other human potential. The gospel reveals this truth at the heart of its divine-human drama. Good Friday reveals our true nature, and it should humble us.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting Good Friday is a darker day than the day we remember the Shoah (Holocaust). It doesn't trump the genocides perpetrated under Stalin (such as Holomodor) or the Khmer Rouge. Nor is Good Friday worse than August 6, 1945, the day a nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and killed an estimated 80,000 Japanese instantly. Rather, Good Friday prophetically reveals and foreshadows these human-made horrors and countless more.
If Jesus is truly the bearer of cosmic grace and forgiveness, Good Friday is the day we willfully threw it all away. Good Friday reveals the limits of our collective human goodness, and our limitless capacity for evil and injustice. The crowd yelling "Crucify Him!" shows the despair lurking deep in human group-think. It shows the lengths human community will go to nurse its fears, self-preservation, and do evil. For me, the ancient biblical story of Israel is a story of us. Jesus is more than an individual in the gospels. Jesus is called the "Son of Man." The exact origin and meaning of this term are debated. But, what's clear is that in the gospels Jesus is a symbol of our shared humanity. As the "Son of Man," he bears the essence of our humanity as described in scripture. He is a creature but bears the image of the Creator. Jesus is vulnerable and yet, powerful. He suffers and overcomes. Jesus is an individual, but wholly dependent on Abba God and others. He bears the social status and life-circumstances of those he teaches and meets.
The gospels proclaim Jesus is also the messiah. This means Jesus is both the message and messenger of the reign of God. As "Son of Man" and messiah, what happens to Jesus tells us what happens between God and humanity. It's a story about what we do to God and one another. Jesus comes revealing God's love and forgiveness. Yet, on Good Friday, Israel and Rome share in pushing Jesus out of this world. On the cross, Jesus is ridiculed, suffers, and dies both naked and innocent. He is stationless and vulnerable in his society. In Jesus, God is revealed on the cross as the unwanted, rejected, and scapegoated. The chief priests, crowd, and Pilate all play a role putting Jesus to death. Jesus' death is not simply a problem of "the Jews." (Christians have hypocritically perpetrated the evil of blaming Jews as "Christ-killers.") Self-righteousness, scapegoating and self-preservation are things human beings nurture and bear within themselves. Good Friday reveals these as a human problem. Good Friday reminds me that human beings will push both God and others out of this world for the sake of self-righteousness, to exalt the idols of empire (violence, freedom, power, etc), and in sheer self-interest. Good Friday reveals a pattern that repeats throughout history.
Individually, we have a profound capacity for goodness, self-sacrifice, and love for others. But, collectively, human nature holds an equally profound capacity for injustice, self-preservation, and violence. Human potential extends to both good and evil.
Let's not rush to Easter. Good Friday is what makes the Christian story true. The cross reveals the pattern of human history. It reveals something about who we are and how we are in this world. Let's stare at the cross and consider it a while.