Today, Good Friday, the Church commemorates the suffering and death of Jesus. In the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus prophesies three times to His disciples, during His ministry, that Israel’s religious leaders in Jerusalem, including the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, would all persecute Him and have Him sentenced to death. In this sense, here He prophesies literally about His persecution and death. These religious leaders, of course, did not have the legal authority to sentence Jesus to death. After all, at the time, they lived under Roman rule. For this reason, the Roman Governor in the time of Jesus, Pontius Pilate, would alone have the legal authority to sentence Jesus to death, for he acted on behalf of Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. As such, Israel’s religious leaders in Jerusalem, who did not have any authority from Caesar, would conspire to use their social and religious status to influence the people against Jesus through false testimony about Him. As a result, the people would eventually join them in calling for Pilate to sentence Jesus to death. According to the Gospels, in the end, Pilate, fearing that the people would riot, publically declared that Jesus, an innocent man, would suffer the death penalty. For the religious leaders, this was certainly their desired end or objective in persecuting Jesus. They wanted Him dead. In fact, as Jesus reveals prophetically three times in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, He knew what He would be subjected to by Israel’s religious leaders in Jerusalem. He knew they would persecute Him and have Him sentenced to death.
Similarly, in John’s Gospel, Jesus also prophesies His persecution and death, but John does not use the three literal prophecies of Jesus recorded in the other Gospels. On the contrary, he uses other parables, metaphors and sayings in Jesus’s preaching that prophetically reveal the same message. For instance, John recalls that Jesus prophesied His persecution, particularly His death, by preaching metaphorically about them. This would include His saying about the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. According to John, here the grain of wheat represents Jesus who would fall to the ground and die by persecution. Moreover, in his Gospel, John also recalls Jesus describing Himself as the good shepherd who guards His sheep from the wolves who only desire to separate them from one another to kill them. In this sense, here Jesus is the good shepherd, the sheep are His people, and the wolves are the religious leaders. According to Jesus, as the good shepherd, He is willing to lay down His life for His sheep, He is willing to suffer and die for them, in guarding them from the wolves. As such, here Jesus, again, preaches metaphorically about His persecution and death that He would suffer. In this sense, in all four Gospels, in Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, Jesus reveals what He would be subjected to by the religious leaders of Israel. Indeed, by preaching literally and metaphorically, He reveals that He would suffer persecution from them, including death.
At the same time, in all four Gospels, Jesus also tells His disciples that His Father wills that He suffer this persecution and death. In fact, in His preaching of the Gospel, Jesus Himself professes that He has become man to do His Father’s will. According to Him, the Father’s will involves Him suffering persecution and death, as difficult as that would be for Him as man. For instance, in Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, as recounted by Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus prays to His Father asking Him to save Him from the suffering that He would be subjected to by human beings, particularly by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. In this prayer, Jesus, in His suffering, begins by prayerfully asking His Father, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from me”, meaning the cup of persecution and death that He would suffer, but He finishes His prayer by saying to His Father, “not what I will, Father, what you will.” “Your will be done.” In this sense, in the Garden, Jesus prays to do His Father’s will in His suffering as man. In doing so, He knows that He would suffer greatly, more than anyone would ever suffer in human history, but He is willing to drink this cup of suffering, this persecution and death as man, if that is the will of His Father. This story of Jesus in the Garden praying in agony not to do His will, but to do the will of His Father, is recorded only in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Here the Evangelists describe the real humanity and suffering of Jesus in the Garden. Conversely, in John’s Gospel, John only recalls the fruit of Jesus’s prayer in the Garden, for here, after praying, Jesus receives divine fortitude from His Father to proclaim to the religious leaders and soldiers who He really is, His divine status, as I AM. This proclamation of His divinity to them in the Garden means that He is ready and willing to drink the cup of suffering, the persecution and death, they plan to subject Him to, after arresting Him.
In this sense, the persecution and death that these people plan for Jesus is also the Father’s plan of salvation for human beings. Indeed, the Father wills for His Son, Jesus, to be their Savior by what He would suffer. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies will produce much fruit. The fruit He is referring to here is the salvation of the human race. As such, if He falls to the ground as His Father wills, meaning if He suffers and dies, by persecution, He will produce the fruit of salvation for human beings. For this reason, throughout His life as man, particularly in His persecution and death, Jesus wills in His Heart only what His Father wills. This means that His will to suffer as man, as the Father wills, is a real sacrifice that would mercifully save human beings.
Accordingly, on Good Friday, the Church commemorates Jesus’s sacrificial offering of Himself to the Father by His will to suffer persecution and death to save human beings from both sin and their punishment for sin. After all, by sin, particularly the original sin of Adam and Eve, including mortal sin, these first human beings justly incurred not only the stain of moral guilt for sin, but also the debt of eternal punishment for such sin, including death, for here they acted against the order of God’s divine justice. According to the Church, this divine order requires, in justice, that human beings, including Adam and Eve, offer to God the honor due Him by good actions that proceed from love. Consequently, by sinning against God, Adam and Eve unjustly denied God this honor. In doing so, they failed to love God, first and foremost, in their actions, but also failed to do the same for each other. As a result, they introduced an inequality of actions in the order of God’s divine justice. This means that the sin, the evil action, which Adam and Eve introduced to this divine order was unequal to the good action required, in justice, to honor God. For this reason, this order of justice could only be repaired or restored to equality by paying to God, the Just Judge, a penalty of compensation for sin through a good action, proceeding from love, which would honor God.
In Catholic Teaching, this compensatory payment for the penalty of sin is called satisfaction. In the doctrine of satisfaction, developed by St. Thomas, he recalls the general principle that a human being, a just man, can satisfy for the sin of his neighbor, his brother or sister, if he remains in a state of charity, but he cannot satisfy for all human beings because an act of love by a single human being, a mere creature, as good as he may be, does not have the full value of all the people in the human race. On the other hand, the action of Jesus, proceeding from perfect love, has a value that could fully satisfy for the sins of all people, particularly for the sin of Adam and Eve and all mortal sins, by reason of His divine dignity as the Son of God. In fact, here the action of Jesus, the Son of God, who has become the Son of man, has a divine goodness infinitely greater in efficacy than the goodness of all the members of the human race. Accordingly, He alone, by His dignity as the God-man, could offer infinite satisfaction for the guilt for all the sins of human beings in human history, including for the debt of eternal punishment and death. In this sense, in offering such satisfaction for all people, Jesus does not merely offer to God a good action equal in goodness to an action that honors God, as divine justice requires. On the contrary, by His divine dignity, Jesus offers to God the perfect action, the perfect sacrifice, infinitely greater than the requirements of justice, for He acts by a higher principle, divine charity, to satisfy for sin perfectly through His passion and death. In this perfect sacrifice, the perfect act of love, Jesus does His Father’s will. He suffers and dies for human beings as satisfactory payment for their guilt and punishment for sin, because of His love. Indeed, He offers Himself sacrificially as satisfaction for them, principally because He loves His Father as His First and Greatest Good, and secondarily, because He loves His neighbors, all human beings, as Himself. Thus, He satisfies this compensatory penalty, required by God’s divine justice, through an act of divine love, the greatest act of love He could ever offer to His Father for human beings. As He says in the Gospel, He could offer no greater love for His friends than to offer Himself as a sacrifice for them. In this act, He more than compensates for the inequality introduced to the order of justice by sin. Here He removes all the defects of sin that separate human beings from God, including guilt, punishment and death. On this basis, by His sacrifice, the perfect act of love that honors God, Jesus merits for people God’s grace of justification, the grace that offers them God’s forgiveness and communion in God’s friendship.
Today, as the Church contemplates Jesus’s sacrificial offering of Himself, His suffering and death, the perfect act of loves that saves human beings, she remembers that Jesus is calling her, calling all her members, to participate in His perfect sacrifice of love. As Jesus says in the Gospel, a person can only be His disciple by living a sacrificial life. This means that he will have to bear His crosses virtuously, deny himself, and follow Jesus for love of Him and his neighbors. In doing so, he helps his brothers and sisters, spiritually, by his sacrifices. This is the message of Good Friday. The Church, in all her members, is called to love sacrificially as Jesus does. This alone will honor God.
In Christ with Blessed Mary,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.