Luke 23:26, 33-34a NKJ
Now as they led him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Several things stand out to me in this familiar passage about these amazingly gracious words spoken by Jesus right after His crucifixion. They were spoken after He had been falsely accused, mercilessly tried and tortured, relentlessly humiliated and mocked, brutally nailed to a cross after doing the near impossible task of carrying His own cross uphill to “the place of the skull” where He, a “sinless man,” was hung between two criminals while lots were cast for His only possession that had been stripped of Him. Injury upon injury – physical, mental, and emotional — continued when He was further mocked with sour or bitter wine and asked to save Himself if He were really a king. All the while, people were sneering at Him or just looking on in silence while He suffered more as others were mocking, taunting, and testing him, as if all that had already transpired were not trial and testing enough. And then He said, through great pain and effort due to being hung on a cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
First of all, when have any of us suffered anything like what He suffered, really? Granted, at some time we may have felt humiliated or been mocked or not helped, even denied and betrayed, perhaps even been on trial for something we really didn’t do, but still, nothing like Jesus suffered over the course of 24 hours. Plus, who among us was 24/7 doing the will of God for three years straight, performing miracles and endless acts healing and compassion, living as a humble peasant servant, fulfilling the law of Moses and of God at every turn, at great risk to oneself?
Second, how quickly do any of us rush to forgiveness, even over small or medium-sized slights or injustices, let alone something so hugely horrifying and excruciating as what happened to Jesus at the time of His crucifixion? Is forgiveness our first thought and response, usually or ever? Do we lift ourselves up, literally by everything we have, with our most deliberate and painful last breaths and with whatever last bit of energy we can muster, in order to offer enormous forgiveness to our torturers and humiliators?
Third, if this is the dying way and word of our Lord and Savior, what He most wanted us to see in His example and to know about His holy grace and understanding of God, why don’t we incorporate this into our own lives, embody this fully as The Way, The Truth, The Life, with everything we’ve got, whenever, wherever, for whomever?
I am sure that my situations to forgive will never be as challenging as His, and I assume this is true for all of us. So how might I/we begin to live into and out of such extravagant, wholehearted, full-out forgiving love?
Perhaps we could, at even the smallest on up to any size hurt, wrong, resentment or righteous indignation, start practicing just saying immediately, “Father , forgive them, for they know not what they do, ” even if we think they did know what they were doing. Meanwhile, we can be wondering if anyone who really knew what they were doing, how it really does hurt the other, God, AND themselves, would ever knowingly hurt another. I dare say, NOT in God’s vision for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth!
We might quarrel with this new practice, arguing that we really don’t mean it or can’t do it all the time or easily, and that’s okay. We can’t forgive like Jesus did on the cross in our own strength…..yet! And remember, Jesus asked God to forgive them! Plus, there will be a whole community of others trying this experiment of walking a mile in Jesus’ sandals, taking baby steps (giant steps, actually!) in the direction of walking this talk of radical forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we will like what was done to us, approve of it, or want the behavior to continue or to go without its logical and natural consequences. It doesn’t mean we have to particularly feel like doing it either, or be perfectly forgiving or able to completely forget; we will leave all that up to God, as Jesus modeled. We are not to judge or mete out justice; that’s in God’s job description, not ours. No, we will just accept the facts and turn them over to God; surrender all to God in order to have the ultimate victory over evil. By just naming forgiveness we will begin to claim it and give it, all in the name of Jesus with the help of God, assured that the Holy Spirit will take over where our efforts need a boost.
Prayer: Father, forgive me for not making forgiveness my first or only response. I want so to have the heart and mind of Jesus and to do your will and way. I recommit to this mission and vision today by practicing these powerful final words of Christ from the cross, “Father forgive them….” whenever I perceive or feel a wrong. Amen.