Good Friday homily on “It is finished” (One-page summary)
Tetelestai: At three o’clock, Jesus said He was thirsty. A soldier fixed a sponge on a spear and held it up to His lips. He took it (John 19:30). Then, straining to raise His head and to look up to Heaven Jesus said in Aramaic: m’shaalam “It is finished.” Then he bowed His head and gave up His spirit. John wrote his Gospel in Greek, and those last words of Jesus are just one word in Greek – tetelestai (pronounced te-tel-es-sty).The expression “It is finished,” or tetelestai was well known to the Palestinians because it was a part of everyday language. When Jesus had put the final touches on an agricultural instrument in his carpentry shop, he would stand up and declare to his mother in Aramaic, “m’shaalam” (tetelestai in Greek), — is lunch ready, Mom?” When the Palestinians paid their tax, the officer would say tetelestai, paid in full.
What did Jesus’ tetelestai mean? 1) Tetelestai – A perfect sacrifice of atonement is finished: What Jesus really meant was that his job of saving the world had been completed by his offering of himself on the cross as a perfect sacrifice. Jesus had paid the price in full – he had cancelled all of the debt mankind owed to God. His sacrifice had been a perfect one, acceptable to the heavenly Father. That is why Isaiah 53:10 calls our Savior a “guilt offering;” John the Baptist calls Him the Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); and Paul calls him a “sacrifice of atonement,” (Romans 3:25), and a “sin offering,” (Romans 8:3).
2) Tetelestai – Reconciliation is accomplished: Sin had separated us from God, and if we were to have any hope of going to Heaven to be with God, then someone, both human and Divine, had to deal with sin in order to restore our relationship with God. So, God sent his Son into the world for this very purpose. Jesus died on the cross to get rid of the power of sin to condemn us. “For God indeed was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
3) Tetelestai – The ransom is paid: In his Gospel, Mark uses this Roman legal terminology for the freeing of slaves when he quotes Jesus: “the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many.” The only way in which the satisfaction could be made for the debt we owed to Divine justice by our sin was by the Incarnation, willing, sacrificial death, and resurrection of a Redeemer who was both God and man.
4) Tetelestai – An exemplary atonement is made demonstrating the depth of God’s love for man. St. Paul writes: “God has shown us how much He loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! … We were God’s enemies, but He made us His friends through the death of His Son.” (Romans 5:8, 10).
5) Tetelestai – God’s solidarity with suffering humanity is demonstrated. Although God could have saved humanity in any number of ways, He allowed a cruel execution for His only Son to show His solidarity with suffering humanity. This gift enables us to find meaning for our own sufferings in the sufferings of Christ. Jesus’ announcement, “tetelestai,” “It is finished” is clear and simple. Jesus had completed his task of reconciling sinful humanity with God, thus enabling us to accept our eternal salvation. Let us pray for the grace to welcome our crosses, as Jesus did, for the atonement of our sins and those of others and let us experience Jesus’ sacrificial love and share it with others.
“Tetelestai” (τετέλεσται = Greek), זה נגמר “ze nigmar” (=Hebrew) , =m’shaalam(Aramaic)
28: After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled,* Jesus said, “I thirst.” 29. There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. 30. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished” (“Ecce,* consummatum est” = Latin; *see Notes for explanation) And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit. (John 19: 28-30)
Suffering and death of Jesus on the cross: Crucifixion probably first began among the Persians. Alexander the Great introduced the practice in Egypt and Carthage, and the Romans appear to have learned of it from the Carthaginians. Although the Romans did not invent crucifixion, they perfected it as a form of torture and capital punishment that was designed to produce a slow death with maximum pain and suffering. It was one of the most disgraceful and cruel methods of execution and usually was reserved only for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and the vilest of criminals. Jesus was crucified.
He was nailed to a cross with heavy, square wrought-iron nails hammered through His wrists and through His feet. He hung on the cross for several hours. When His body slumped, excruciating, fiery pain would shoot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain – the nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed the full weight on the nail through His feet. Again, He felt the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of the feet. As His arms fatigued, cramps swept through the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps came the inability to push Himself upward to breathe. Air could be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fought to raise himself in order to release even one small breath. Finally, carbon dioxide built up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subsided. Spasmodically, He was able to push himself upward to exhale (and speak, if He wished), and to bring in life-giving oxygen. Hours of this limitless pain passed, with cycles of twisting, joint-rending cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation and searing pain as tissue was torn from His lacerated back by His movement up and down against the cross’ rough upright. Then another agony began: a crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly filled with serum and began to compress the heart. It was now almost over – the loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level – the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues – the tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. He then felt the chill of death creeping through his tissues… Finally, He was able to allow his body to die. (Crucifixion, Adapted from C. Truman Davis, M.D., in The Expos. Bible Commentary, Vol. 8)
Tetelestai: At three o’clock, Jesus said He was thirsty. A soldier fixed a sponge on a spear and held it up to His lips. He took it (John 19: 30). Then, straining to raise his head and to look up to Heaven, Jesus said: “m’shaalam,” — “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John wrote his Gospel in Greek, and those last words of Jesus are just one word in Greek – tetelestai (pronounced te-tel-es-sty).The expression “It is finished,” or tetelestai was well known to the Palestinians because it was a part of everyday language. When Jesus had put the final touches on an agricultural instrument in his carpentry shop, he would stand up and declare to his mother in Aramaic, “m’shaalam” (tetelestai in Greek) – “It’s finished, — is lunch ready, Mom?” When a slave servant had completed a difficult job that his master had given him to do, he would say to the master “m’shaalam” – tetelestai – “I have done the job to the best of my ability. It is finished”. When the Jewish people went to the Temple with their sacrifice, the High Priest would examine it and say the Aramaic equivalent of tetelestai, namely, “m’shaalam,” or “ze nigmar” (in Hebrew) meaning, “Your offering is accepted; it is perfect”. When the merchant in the marketplace made a sale and the money was handed over, he would say, “m’shaalam” or “tetelestai – “The deal is finished, complete. The price has been paid in full. I am satisfied”. When an artist had finished a painting or a sculpture, he would stand back and say, tetelestai or “m’shaalam” – “It is finished; there is nothing more that can be done to make this piece of art any better. This painting is complete.” When a boy recited to his father a difficult passage he had learnt from the Scriptures or a girl showed her mother the bread she had baked for the family, each child would say “m’shaalam” or tetelestai and the parents would respond with, “Well done, my child, I am very proud of you.”
What did Jesus’ tetelestai mean?
1) Tetelestai – A perfect sacrifice of atonement is finished: What Jesus really meant was that his job of saving the world had been completed by his offering of himself on the cross as a willing, perfect sacrifice. Jesus had paid the price in full – he had cancelled all of the debt mankind owed to God. His sacrifice had been a perfect one, acceptable to the Heavenly Father. That is why Isaiah 53:10 calls our Savior a “guilt offering;” why John the Baptist calls Him the Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29); why Paul calls him a “sacrifice of atonement,” (Romans 3:25), a “sin offering,” (Romans 8:3), a “Passover lamb,” (1 Corinthians 5:7) a “fragrant offering” (Ephesians 5:2) and a “sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12); and why John calls him “the atoning sacrifices for our sins” (1 John 2:2; 4:10). Thus, looking down on His Son hanging lifeless on the cross, God the Father said, “Well done. You are My beloved Son; I am well pleased with Your perfect sacrifice.” Hence, these last words of Jesus: Tetelestai — “It is finished,” are seen as a cry of victory. Jesus had now completed what he had come to do. A plan was fulfilled; salvation was made possible. He had offered himself fully to God as a sacrifice on behalf of humanity. As He died, it was finished.
2) Tetelestai – Reconciliation is accomplished: The word “reconciliation” has been used a lot in connection with the relationship between the aboriginal people of America and the rest of the community. The terrible things that happened in the past have caused a rift between the native inhabitants (whom their discoverers miscalled “Indians,” thinking they had landed in India and found a water route to the riches of the East), and the intruding whites who mistreated them. Later, the same rift occurred between the black slaves from Africa and their white owners. Efforts have been made to heal the differences, to close the gap caused by past actions, to restore friendship, to reconcile the descendants of the victims with the descendants of those who enslaved them. In the same way, a terrible gap has come between God and all humanity, caused by the first sin — that of Adam and Eve, — and intensified by all the evil which followed from that Original Sin. Our offences, our disobedience, the hurt we have caused others – all these have destroyed our relationship with God, alienating us from Him Who has continued to love us. Sin has always had a devastating effect on our relationship with God. Sin separated us from God, and if we were to have any hope of going to Heaven to be with God, then Someone, both human and Divine, first had to deal with sin in order to restore our relationship with God. So, in His Divine Mercy, God sent his Son into the world for this very purpose. Jesus died on the cross to destroy the power of sin to condemn us. “For God indeed was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). His death bridged the deep gulf between God and us. “Salvation is accomplished, Tetelestai!” Jesus cried. The restoration of the friendship between God and humanity had been completed. The task for which God’s Son came to earth had been finished. He had won forgiveness for all people. Nothing else, therefore, needs to be done by us except to cooperate with God’s grace, in Faith and Hope, to keep His word, and so to do acts of charity for our fellow human beings. Salvation is complete. “It is finished”.
3) Tetelestai – The ransom is paid: In his Gospel, Mark uses this Roman legal terminology for the freeing of slaves when he quotes Jesus: “the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many.” St. Anselm in his book “Cur Deus Homo?” explains this theory. “No sin can be forgiven without satisfaction. A debt to Divine Justice has been incurred; and that debt must be paid. But man could not make this satisfaction for himself because the debt is something far greater than he can pay. Thus, the only way in which the satisfaction could be made, and men could be set free from sin, was by the coming of a Redeemer who was both God and man. ” Hence, only a Godman, Jesus, could pay man’s sin-debt, and he had to do it by freely giving his own human life in place of ours. He did so by willingly accepting and dying that death on the cross. Paul reminds us: “For you are bought with a great price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). So, the atonement Jesus made for sin delivered man from captivity to the devil, and from death, by the payment of a ransom to God. That is why St. Peter formulated the Apostolic Faith in the Divine plan of salvation in this way: “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot….” (CCC #602).
4) Tetelestai – An exemplary atonement is made demonstrating the depth of God’s love for man. By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that His plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part. It was out of love for his Father and for men whom the Father wanted to save, that Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death. St. Paul writes: “God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! … We were God’s enemies, but He made us His friends through the death of His Son.” (Romans 5:8, 10). Jesus’ death was designed to impress mankind greatly with a sense of God’s love, resulting in softening our hearts and leading us to repentance. When Jesus died, he was demonstrating that the God who was his Father had entered our life and loved us even to the point of death. The cross primarily demonstrates the greatness of the love of God, a love that should move us to turn away from our sin and to love God in return.
5) Tetelestai – God’s solidarity with suffering humanity is demonstrated. The Church teaches us that Jesus saved and reconciled humanity to God in and through his death and resurrection. Since God could have saved humanity in any number of ways, one may wonder why He would choose the cruel death of His Son to be His method. God was willing to allow a cruel execution for His only Son to show His solidarity with suffering humanity. As the Mediator of salvation, Jesus endured torment of body and anguish of spirit. This gift enables us to find meaning for our own sufferings in the sufferings of Christ. As we lay down our lives in the service of others, we open ourselves to receiving God’s abundant life. In the same way, as we empty ourselves of all selfish tendencies, we are filled with the life of the risen Christ. As we struggle to overcome addictions and sin in our lives, we share in Christ’s victory over sin and destruction.
Why is it GOOD Friday? We call today “GOOD Friday” because the cross is proof of the powerful love that God has for each of us. No one, not even God, would do something like that unless He truly loved us. Here we see a love that was prepared to endure the ultimate suffering in order to rescue us. We have known love to do some very powerful and strange things. There is the story of a Polish Catholic priest, St. Maximillian Kolbe, who offered his life in place of a married man in Nazi Germany. It was February 1941, Auschwitz, Poland. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest put in the infamous death camp for helping Jews escape Nazi terrorism. Months went by and in desperation, one of his fellow prisoners escaped from the camp. The camp rule was enforced. Ten people would be rounded up randomly and herded into a cell where they would die of starvation and a final exposure to lethal gas, as a lesson against future escape attempts. Names were called. A Polish Jew Frandishek Gasovnachek was called. He cried, “Please spare me, I have a wife and children!” Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I will take his place.” Kolbe was marched into the starvation cell with nine others to whom he ministered. He managed to live until August 14. This story was chronicled on NBC news special several years ago. Gasovnachek, by this time 82, was shown telling this story while tears streamed down his cheeks. A mobile camera followed him around his little white house to a marble monument carefully tended with flowers. The inscription read: IN MEMORY OF MAXIMILIAN KOLBE HE DIED IN MY PLACE. Every day Gasovnachek lived since 1941, he lived with the knowledge, “I live because someone died for me.” Every year on August 14 he travels to Auschwitz in memory of Kolbe. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
A teenager, Arthur Hinkley lifted a farm tractor with his bare hands. He wasn’t a weight lifter, but his best friend, eighteen-year-old Lloyd, was pinned under a tractor. Arthur heard Lloyd screaming for help and Arthur somehow lifted the tractor enough for Lloyd to wriggle out. His love for his best friend somehow enabled him to do what would normally be impossible. And then there is the old story of the young soldier who had been condemned to death by Oliver Cromwell. He was to be shot at the ringing of the curfew bell. His fiancée climbed the bell tower and tied herself to the clapper of the giant bell so that it would not ring. When the bell did not ring, soldiers went to investigate and found the girl battered and bleeding from being bashed against the sides of the bell. Cromwell was so impressed by her love for the young man that he was pardoned.
Jesus’ announcement, “tetelestai,” “It is finished” is clear and simple. Jesus had completed His task. The purpose for which He had come to earth as a human had been fulfilled. He came so that you and I can have forgiveness and salvation. He came to give us the victory. He came to ensure that we would enter his kingdom and live forever. Let us pray: Loving God, what You have done for us in Jesus’ death on the cross is far more than we deserve. His death has made us friends with You again. His death has given us forgiveness and the hope of life forever. Everything is complete. Please, Lord, enable us to welcome our crosses, as Jesus did, for the atonement of our sins and those of others, and let us experience that Love and share Him with others. We thank you Jesus from the bottom of our hearts. Amen
Notes: 1) Aramaic text given below of John 19:30 is from http://www.answering-christianity.com/being_like_the_teacher.pdf,
(Transliteration from Aramaic Jn 19: 30= hhwr mlšaw hšr nkraw m’saalm ah rma ewšy alh wh lqš nyd dk) (http://www.suduva.com/text1/aramaic_john_transliterated.htm)
Explanation given by Fr. Jacob Thundyil expert in Aramaic: Seeri Institrute: (firstname.lastname@example.org) : Peshitta has: as you sent: mshalem, Harklean version has in a passive verb: eshtamly. Only the NT printed in Turkey has: shlem.
All these mean: it is finished or perfected; in Latin: Ecce consummatum est; (this is the perfect translation of tetelestai). L/20