In the passion story according to John which we have just heard, the last words that Jesus said on the cross before he bowed his head and gave up the spirit is “It is finished” (John 19:30). Three words in English but in the original Greek it is just one word, tetelestai. What does tetelestai “it is finished” mean?
Scholars got more insight into the meaning of this expression a few years ago after some archaeologists dug up in the Holy Land a tax collector’s office that was almost intact, with all the tax records and everything. There were two stacks of tax records and one of them had the word, tetelestai, on the top. In other words, “paid in full.” These people don’t owe anything anymore. So, when Jesus said “It is finished,” what is finished? It is the debt we owe God by our sins. It has been paid in full?
The Jews of Jesus’ time saw sin as a debt that we owe God, a debt that must somehow be repaid. Jesus used that kind of language and often spoke of sin as debt and forgiveness as a cancellation of debt. He told the parable of the unforgiving servant whom his master forgave the debt that he had no way of repaying but who went out and insisted on getting back the small debt that his fellow servant owed him. This was a way of teaching us that when we are forgiven by God we must in turn forgive our neighbour. He taught us to pray “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us” which simply means “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus clearly used the language of commerce to speak of the spiritual relationship between God and us and between us and our neighbour. So on the cross he says telestai “It is paid in full.” Our sins have been completely forgiven. It is finished.
So, how do we respond to this last testament of Jesus? Remember, it is not a promise, “Your sins will be forgiven,” and it is not a conditional statement, “Your sins are forgiven if….” How do we respond to it? What do we do? All we have to do is to say “Amen … So be it.” All we have to do is to believe that these words apply to us personally, no matter the gravity of the sin that we have been involved in. Our debt has been paid to the full and cancelled no matter how huge the amount weowe. All we have to do is to say “Thank you, Jesus” and learn to be grateful to Jesus all our life. That is why we go to church every Sunday. We go to church to perform the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving”. That is why we try to be loving and kind to others. If Jesus has been so loving and kind to me in such a big way, why can’t I try to be loving and kind to others in the little things of everyday life. That is why we try to avoid sin. If Jesus has paid all the debt that I owe to God, I must see to it that I do not go about accumulating more debt.
As we look up to the cross today and contemplate Jesus dying to make the full payment for our sins, let us thank him, and let us promise him that our whole lives will be one unbroken song of thanksgiving to him who gave his life to make full payment for the immeasurable debt we owe to God.