Surely it would be scandalous to call a day on which a person is publicly prosecuted as GOOD!!!
But that is exactly what we are doing. Christianity pronounces the day on which Jesus Christ or the Jesus of Nazareth died as Good Friday.
In German, the entire week is termed as Karwoche or Sorrowful Week and the day of the death of Jesus as Karfreitag or Sorrowful Friday. This naturally sounds more rational and reasonable!
Then why is that same Sorrowful Friday called Good Friday in English???
There are different claims about how the term has come into existence. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the term is supposed to have come from Gottes Freitag in German that translates to God’s Friday.
The answer becomes clear if we try to understand a little Biblical Theology leaving aside the etymological roots.
Jesus a religious victim in Mark, Mathew & Luke
The four Gospels of the Bible speak about how Jesus Christ had sacrificed himself on the Cross. The Gospels according to Mark, Mathew & Luke are collectively known as the Synoptic Gospels. These three speak more about how Jesus was made a victim and crucified due to the difference in opinion he had with the official religious authorities.
Jesus in a different light in John
The Gospel according to John, however, takes up a different line of interpretation. Scripture scholars have studied the textual dating of all four Gospels and opine that this Gospel was written quite sometime after the other three. It was written for a better faith understanding of an established faith community that had broken off from the official religion with their own identity as Christians.
Let us understand the theology embedded in this Gospel to appreciate why this day is called Good Friday.
Jesus the Son of God in John
John projects a Regal Jesus that took birth having come down from Heaven at the will of God the Creator (John 1,1; 1,26-27). His entire life, works and words are oriented to show how he has taken birth to fulfill the will of his Father, that is, God.
A claim to put him to death by religious authorities
Jesus clearly proclaims to be God’s son making himself equivalent to God (John 5,17). This was a blasphemy for those the masses who were the faces of those in religious high places. The claim to be God’s Son was enough to stone him to death (5,18).
Jesus, the Son of God embraces it all voluntarily
The betrayal and arrest of Jesus is projected in different light in the Gospel according to John. Jesus is projected as a kingly figure that does makes the authorities affirm that He is the Son of God & King (John 18,33-37). Here, he gives himself up to the authorities voluntarily and embraces death regally – just as a King would do (John 13,1; 17,1; 18,4-9).
His suffering & death fulfill promises of the scripture
Even when on the Cross, Jesus is not shown to suffer the pain of Crucifixion, but voluntarily gives up his breath to the Father (John 19,11. He does all of it to fulfill the Torah (John 19,24,28; 19,36-37) and atones for all the sin of all humanity.
Jesus is the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sin of the world (John 1,29)
Jesus is the Good Person that takes the sins of the world on himself as the Paschal Lamb and relives humanity of all strained relationships with God. The blood of Jesus unifies humans with God much like that of the sacrificial blood in the Temple that freed the Jews of all sins on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16,1-34; 23,27-28).
It is this Good Gesture of this Good Man and his death for the Good Cause of freeing humans of all their sins that makes the day of his death Good Friday.
Present day significance
Immaterial of the name, it is a day when Christians of all denominations across the world spend solemnly reflecting on the sufferings that Jesus endured. All his life he taught humans how to live in harmonious relationship with each other, serving each other to be in good relationship with God.
It is only Good that believers spend a solemn day reflecting on all of this. Also fast and pray while attending Church services listening to the narrative from the Gospel according to Saint John on this Holy Day.
In anticipation of the Easter Resurrection
All of this in anticipation of Easter Sunday when Jesus Resurrected or rose from his tomb conquering death and sin to fulfill all that he had promised to his believers!
Information shared by:
Licenza in Sacra Scritura,
Pontificio Instituto Biblico.