Benny Nalkara, CMI
Jesus’ seven utterances from the cross were not mere despairing cries of a helpless soul. They were expressions of His divine and human natures with the innermost feelings. As a human person, Jesus revealed God’s love in categories that derive from human experience. As the Son of God, Jesus’ utterances from the cross reveal His faithfulness to the mission entrusted with Him. His loyalty, single-minded commitment, and sense of accomplishment were substantiated through these utterances.
“It is finished” (Jn 19:30) is the sixth verse in the order among the total seven utterances from the cross. It is the “last word” of Jesus in the Gospel of John. It was the shout of cry made by Jesus after having received the vinegar offered to Him. The Greek word for this expression is tetelestai which is derived from the verb teleo. The word teleo means, “to fulfil,” “to complete,” “to pay” etc… The verb teleo fundamentally denotes “to carry out” the will of somebody, whether of oneself or another and so to fulfil obligations or carry out religious acts. This word used in the passive perfect form here in this context has different shades of meanings. The basic meaning can be “to bring something to a successful end to or to its intended or destined goal.” The possible prominent translations of tetelestai are “it is finished,” “it is accomplished” and “it is paid in full.” All the three translations point to the fulfillment of the mission entrusted with Jesus and His final “reporting” to the Father and the public proclamation of it to the world.
The renderings “it is finished” and “it is accomplished” express the idea of the successful completion of God’s plan by Jesus. In the ancient world, the servants used the word, tetelestai in this sense when they reported to their masters about the completion of the task entrusted to them. The priest also used the word, tetelestai after examining the sacrificial lamb and finding it as faultless and perfect before the sacrifice. In the Johannine context, tetelestai also convey the notion of the completion of the rites of sacrifice, for the death of Jesus is conceived of as a sacrifice of a lamb blameless and spotless. In the last word of Jesus, we have the final act of self-offering after He had finished His work. The third rendering, “it is paid in full” is literally referred to in the business world for the full payment of a debt. On promissory notes and bills they inscribed it. When Jesus said tetelestai, He was saying that the sin debt of humanity was “paid in full” by giving Himself as ransom.
Jesus was always aware of the work entrusted with Him: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (Jn 4:34). He was very much clear about the purpose of His coming down from heaven: “Not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38). He was anointed “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim, release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19). His coming into this world was “to bear witness to the truth” (Jn 18:37). He completed His mission entrusted with Him by the Father without turning back from that love even amidst the strenuous moments of life. Jesus’ death on the cross is the sublime act of His love for His own (cf. Jn 13:1; 15:13) and His love for the Father (Jn 14:30-31). Having completed the “cup” (Mk 10:38) He had to drink and fulfilling the Father’s plans, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
Death of Jesus is not a moment of ignominy, of suffering or desolation but a moment of confidence in His completion of God’s work which the Father gave Him to do” on earth (Jn 17:4). Hence at this glorified moment Jesus utters with confidence His last word of His life. It is not a sigh of relief but a cry of victory! It is a cry of victory against the cry of apparent defeat or against the sense of abandonment. The victory it heralds is that of obediently fulfilling the Father’s will. The final word of Jesus interprets His suffering and dying as the crowning conclusion and high point of the work that He has performed. It is interesting to note that the divine self-satisfaction expressed after the completion of creation by saying, everything “was good,” (Gen 1:31) is echoed in the last word of Jesus – “tetelestai,” after redeeming act on the cross.
Amidst the unfathomable challenges and tempting distractions of the daily life we are called to fulfill our mission as the disciples of Jesus. We are also entrusted with the task of giving witness to the truth in a world where lies are propagated and celebrated. We are called to live out the real meaning of the life-giving love in a world where love is confined to the fulfilment of selfish interest. Only the imitation of the life style of Jesus and single-minded commitment to our call and mission will give us the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in life which will enable us to say, “tetelestai.”