Are people basically good or basically evil? This is a debate both philosophically and theologically that has raged for centuries.
As we hear again on Good Friday the Gospel recounting the interplay and the result of the interplay between Jesus and the temple authorities, and between Pilate and Jesus, it is possible to make a case for either side of the debate.
Perhaps it is on the extremes that people show either their greatness or their baseness. We hear of great heroics by some of those facing a natural or man-made disasters. We also hear of greedy, self-serving or cowardly behavior under the same or similar circumstances.
It is when we are faced with the extremes that we show our true colors. “In the furnace of adversity”, I once read, “we find the presence or absence of the gold of decency and caring in the person.”
The only way I can understand the Good Friday events is to reject the notion that God wanted Jesus to be killed for future glory or to pay some price for sin, and to see it not as God’s desire but as human choices made in reaction to Jesus life and teachings and the politics of the times.
I am certain that Jesus could have escaped arrest and gone into the Judean wilderness, left the area and eventually die of old age in an obscure village. Instead he stood by his ideals, stood by his understanding of who he was and what was his God-given purpose. He allowed others to make their choices while he remained resolute and in continuing to be who he was even in the face of threats and pain and suffering. That courageous stance gives us a model, and the hope of our being able to live out the reality of who we really are in order to fulfill our God-given purpose even in the face of adversity.
We need to remember that it is called Good Friday not as a value judgment on the events of the day. Remember that an original designation fo the day was God’s Friday. Just as humanity (as symbolized in Adam) was moved by temptation, failed to live out his purpose, was complicit and then tried to shift the blame to others; in Jesus we have a man fully living out that purpose even through the evils of an oppressive political regime and the agenda of maintaining power over others.
We have the model of what it looks like to be true to one-self and one’s ideals. And we are given the reality check that at times it has large costs – but even then there may be unforeseen results that bring eventual good for many out of evil.