It is finished?

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he uttered his last words: “It is finished”, “It is fulfilled” or “It is accomplished” — depending on which trans

Apr 19, 2019

By Anil Netto
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he uttered his last words: “It is finished”, “It is fulfilled” or “It is accomplished” — depending on which translation of the Scriptures we are looking at. All in the perfect tense.

He cried out in a loud voice (perhaps these final words) and then surrendered his spirit.

Finished, fulfilled, accomplished — it is tricky to translate from the Greek word tetelestai, which uses a combination of tenses.

Thus, in the present tense, “it is fulfilled” could mean Jesus was referring to his earthly mission, which he had accomplished as far as he could go in line with his Father’s will. As the incarnation of divine Wisdom and Justice - and taking it as far as he could - he was breaking though the power of death and oppression. Through his passion for justice and compassion, he had worked hard to fulfil all the early prophetic hopes of a coming messiah.

But there is also another sense of the tense in Greek — the present ongoing —which implies accomplishing or fulfilling that is ongoing.

So Jesus’ mission — his kingdom project — is ongoing to this day. And we need to participate in its finishing. We need to work on its accomplishment and fulfilment as well.

St Paul speaks of life as running a race. Maybe we could look at it as a relay race: we need to do our part in this race without dropping the baton. We must do our part in running the race and fighting the good fight.

When we finish our leg of the relay, the race may be over for us. But the big race -against sin, injustice, oppression and all the other evils in the world — is not over. The race is to create the new kingdom that Jesus heralded.

The thrill of our journey on earth is that our individual leg of the race feeds into a larger momentous race. And increasingly, with the world hurtling down the path of climate change, it is a race against time.

Sometimes, there is the temptation to think that whatever we do in this world has no impact. We might think our life is an exercise in futility when we think of the powerful, countervailing forces of our time.

We might think the world’s a stage and we are all just actors. Yes, to a certain extent. But we are all actors in a larger-than-life, real-life drama with high stakes.

In many ways, Jesus would have had to face up to this temptation as well. After all, he had to contend with incredible odds.

When he was born, the Roman Empire was at its zenith, ruled by the mighty Emperor Augustus, widely regarded as a divine being, a son of a god. The Roman Empire was the most powerful force on Earth at that time with its vision of (an oppressive) peace built on military victory.

And here was one man on the periphery of the empire, Jesus, putting up an alternative blueprint for life. There was no information technology to disseminate his word, no social media. No photography or film to record his miracles.

It was always going to be a near impossible task for one man to change the course of an empire at its peak, what more to change the course of history. Most of the onlookers seeing Jesus hanging on the cross that fateful afternoon would have agreed.

But God was operating on a different timeframe. The earthly Jesus was limited by a human biological lifespan and specific geographical territory, far away from the centre of Empire in Rome.

Jesus himself realised this and told his followers he had to go first so that the Spirit, his Spirit, could be unleashed on this world. In a sense, he knew he could take it as far as he could to Jerusalem, and then his leg of the race here on Earth was over. He was passing the baton, so speak, to the Spirit.

So while it was accomplished (his earthly leg), it was not over yet. What happened in Jerusalem that Friday and Easter Sunday, would catapult the goals of his mission to a different level.

The dynamic, fired-up mission would then continue to be accomplished through the even more powerful inspiring force of his risen Spirit.

Similarly, what we do on this Earth will have an impact on future generations. We are carrying the Spirit of Jesus in the larger relay race of life. What little we do now will plant the seeds or lay a foundation for others to take over and build in the future. We may not live to see the outcome but we can do our best to do our part in building the kingdom.

Through the resurrection, we are assured that Jesus’ mission to drive the kingdom forward could not be defeated by earthly forces or the mightiest emperor. We have the faith that his passion for distributive justice was vindicated through his resurrection.

Through our darkest days and times, we know we will never be alone, because the work of the kingdom continues to be accomplished and fulfilled in our time, through the power of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus. It is finished — but it is not over, not by a long shot.

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