Good Friday is Christianity’s most solemn observance.
It’s the account of religious authorities condemning Jesus as a false prophet with pretensions to power. They turn him over to the Roman authorities. The Romans fear an insurrection unless they convict Jesus and crucify him. Even Pontius Pilate was skeptical of the accusations, but mob rule prevailed.
Christians today contend fiercely with each other. The toxic kinds of “conservative” vs. “liberal” dualities play out in religion as they do in politics often with similar vitriol.
Commandments such as “Give all you have to the poor.” “How many times I must forgive my brother.” “Seventy times seven,” Jesus claims. These teachings are unambiguous. But they don’t excite the same kind of energy or even advocacy, as say, love our enemies does.
Among the many commandments of Jesus, there is one called, ‘the last commandment.’ It’s the final direction Jesus issues to his disciples before he is crucified. It defines the kind of community Jesus lived and died to cultivate.
In the Gospel of John, the commandment is simple and unambiguous:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
In this regard, Christians haven’t done well. I have an idea why this might be. Considering loving one another, particularly one’s enemies, feels counter-intuitive; how can I love someone I viscerally despise or love someone who has deliberately wronged me?
Our daughter once brought up a similar matter to my wife and me years ago. She knew we had conducted marriage counseling. One day out of the blue she asked, “When you counsel a couple, you can’t take sides, can you,” she asked? We assured her that was so.
“What do you do then if one of them is a real jerk?”
Thereby hangs a tale.
If love is defined as a feeling, loving a bona fide jerk is not promising for anyone. On the other hand, if love is the measure of how we behave toward others, the mindset, if you will – not how we feel – it’s a whole different matter. If love is practiced as principle although while not always felt as fondness, it might look something like this: we’d conduct our dealings with others justly, compassionately, and humbly.
Consider the recent congressional hearings involving Justice Kavanaugh. Imagine that they were conducted with self-discipline; with a level of humility by the interrogators? The hearings would have been dramatically different. Outcomes may have been the same, but without the demeaning grandstanding and the thinly veiled hypocrisy which made so many of us cringe.
The Good Friday drama was an epic exercise in religious and political hypocrisy.
With all the brutality and hypocrisy portrayed on Good Friday, from the first of Jesus’
last seven words – “Forgive them father for they know not what they do” – to the final ones “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”- there is not a hint of retribution for the injustices he bore. Jesus held to a greater vision of what love means.
The kind of love inspiring forgiveness doesn’t necessarily feel-good. It’s about dealing justly. In short, love and moral courage are about compassionately informed discipline, not driven by feelings which are notoriously unpredictable and unruly.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.