Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Good Friday

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” was the last word of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Leo Buscaglia says, “Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time … It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.” The last word is always painful, yet the most memorable one. The last word has transforming power. I do not know how many of us remember the last word of our loved ones. When my father died, his last word was “Take me home”. When the police officer knelt 9 minutes on George Floyd’s last word was, “I can’t breathe”. One of my friends told me that one fully drunk person was about to ride on his motorcycle during the previous Nagaland state election. Since he had lost his balance, they said to him that they would take him home. To their surprise, he threatened them, saying, `who are you? I will beat you!’ Then, he went away. Again, he returned within a few minutes and shouted at them, “Who are you? What do you want to tell me?” Then he left them again. After riding a few meters, he hit a stone, fell, and died instantly. For him, “Who are you? What do you want to tell me?” was the last word. Imagine what will be the last word of a woman who is being raped and murdered! What would have been her last word? Imagine today thousands of innocent people dying in Ukraine, Palestine, Syria, and Myanmar because of war – what would have been their last word? Covid-19 has killed millions of people, not allowing them to say the last words to their loved ones because they were kept in an isolation ward.
Jesus’ last word, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” was the last word. In this word we see the feeling of hopelessness and rejection. But this last word has a transforming word even today. It is confronting evils with the truth. It is sacrificing and suffering one’s life for justice. It is a concrete expression of God’s love in action for reconciliation and peace in the world. To fight against unjust system is not an easy road. It is a struggle. We will face the situation of hopelessness. Jesus’ last word tells us that there is no peace and reconciliation without love and self-sacrifice. Indeed, not by money, not by the exercise of power, not by force, but by love and self-sacrifice can transform the world. Jesus Christ conquered the world of injustice, division, and inequalities by suffering, sacrificing, showing love, and doing justice to people who have been denied justice and right.
The Jews thought that Jerusalem was the only holy place on earth; they believed that no one could encounter God outside of Jerusalem; it is the center of the world, and it is from here that God would rule the world forever. Many wise people, wealthy people, and religious leaders resided in this magnificent city. The Ten Commandment of Moses was kept there. The King, Pharisees, and Sadducees were there to rule, teach, and interpret the laws. The people were proud of this great city of Jerusalem and the great Jerusalem Temple. But in this city, Jesus was betrayed, caught, beaten, tortured, and hanged on a cross. Jesus was taken to the outskirts of Jerusalem and crucified. On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried in utter pain because the city was ruled by power mongers, money worshipers, and dishonest people. This city had full of violence because of arrogance and selfishness.
Jesus’ last words on the cross expose the weaknesses of the power. It trampled down all political machinery that wanted to rule the people to fulfill their vested interest. The suffering of Jesus and crucifixion symbolized defeat, mockery, shame, condemnation, and rejection for the Romans and Jewish collaborators. For them, inflicting suffering was an instrument of punishment for criminals, social outcasts, and rebels. It was an instrument of exhibiting the power and authority of the ruler. For Jews’ ruler, the cross was an instrument of silencing the subjects. It was the severest death penalty. The aim was to create fear among the people. It was meant to show that there is no authority above the empire. For the Jews ruler, it is a defeat and total annihilation. But the testimonies of the disciples of Jesus and the believing community in the subsequent years and centuries have testified that suffering for justice is the victory of truth.
Military equipments like Tanks, F-16 fighter jets, missiles, and nuclear bombs are all useless weapons for those willing to suffer pain for truth as Jesus Christ did. The weapons can destroy buildings, roads, bridges, and infrastructures and kill and inflict injury to thousands of people, but if people are willing to sacrifice their lives for justice, no powerful weapon can defeat them. Any power and guns cannot crush the spirit of self-sacrifice. Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. stood for non-violence and truth, and enemies could not defeat them.
The Roman authority and army could not crush those disciples and armless women who went to the tomb because they were not afraid of suffering for truth. Many missionaries and pastors who dedicated themselves to proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ were killed, but the power of self-sacrifice could not be defeated. The message of the power of the last words of those who gave their life cannot be suppressed by persecution and anti-conversion law in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The spirit of self-sacrifice stands as the symbol of undefeatable power even today.
Jesus told his disciples, “If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself and pick up the cross and follow me”. Jesus’s last word on the cross symbolize denying oneself, sacrificing oneself in love for others. Jesus did not flee from the suffering. By embracing the suffering, Jesus showed that the most important prerequisite to bringing change in the world is self-denial. It means giving up one’s possessions and sacrificing one’s family, wealth, prestige, social status, and greatness. True discipleship involves self-denial for the sake of justice for others.
Today, nations spend large sums of money on security and defense – against whom? Yes, to protects the rich and rulers, but not the poor. We have seen no number of arms how powerful they are of use against Covid-19, a stark reality check to us all! Natural disasters, pandemics, and the dead remind us that the desire to accumulate more wealth, weapons, technologies, and power alone cannot protect life. We need to invest our resources in sustainable food security programs and health systems. Weapons cannot protect a community, but only love and care, solidarity, and helping hands can protect life. We must let justice roll like the living water in our society. Otherwise, we will cry one day, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When people stand together in solidarity in love and deny themselves for the common good, no power can challenge and crush us. Good Friday is a great opportunity to retrospect our life in silence and a time to repent our sins that destroy lives. Let us choose life and protect the precious gift of body, but not destruction.
Rev. Dr. Wati Longchar, Serampore