Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Is there a sentence or phrase you have heard in your life that strikes you as most memorable? Maybe they are words like, “You have been accepted…” or “You got the job.” Maybe they are words like “Honey, we’re expecting,” or “It’s a boy!” Maybe they are words that begin, “Congratulations! You are the proud owner of…”
What about the words, “I forgive you”? Are there any words that have a more powerful affect on a relationship?
Jesus’ words of forgiveness just as he is nailed to the cross are remarkable. He is forgiving those who are still hurting him. Consider the level of injustice Jesus is suffering, if you can. Is your sense of justice offended when powerful companies steal their employees pensions and leave retirees destitute? Are you offended when murderers get off on a technicality, or worse, when innocent people languish in prison for years for crimes they never committed?
Then what do we do with this? To say that Jesus was innocent would be a gross understatement. Jesus was the only person who ever completely and perfectly loved every person who crossed his path. He was mercy, kindness, and charity in sandals. And for this they choose the slowest and cruelest method they know to torture him to death.
Consider the sheer physical pain he is suffering. Metal spikes tear through his muscles and tendons. They press directly against his bones as they hold his body to the cross. If he attempts to relax and simply hang by his hands and his feet, he can’t breathe. If he pulls himself up to breathe, his muscles quickly cramp, locking his arms, neck, and back in spasms of pain.
Would you be in a forgiving mood? Little injustices like door dings in the parking lot, noisy teenage neighbors keeping me up at night, shoddy workmanship in furniture I just purchased, or companies who won’t honor their warrantees stoke my desire for revenge. And I don’t think I’m alone when I see how other people react to bad drivers, or how upset they get at the customer service counter, or how long they will hold a grudge when someone else on the committee gets to do it their way instead.
Add to those little injustices pain no worse than a headache, and forgiveness is the farthest thought from my heart. I want payback! Christlikeness is far more than being nice to those who are nice to you. Jesus asked the question, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). Jesus praying that his Father would forgive the men who are at that moment perpetrating such injustice against him, subjecting him to such suffering, exposes just how un-Christlike we can be.
But perhaps we haven’t even considered the most astounding thing about this prayer for forgiveness: NO ONE HAS APOLOGIZED! No one has said, “I’m sorry.” Jesus was praying forgiveness for those who were impenitent. Of course, how could these soldiers repent? They didn’t even know what they were doing. They didn’t know who Jesus was–just another worthless Jew as far as they were concerned. They were simply carrying out their orders.
Are we inclined to adopt a forgiving attitude toward people who aren’t even sorry for hurting us? At times we can bring ourselves to forgive serious betrayals, costly damage, or painful injuries…when the perpetrator comes groveling to us begging for our pardon. It may even give us a twisted sense of power and superiority to see them so contrite.
But when they remains our sworn enemy, when they find pleasure in our misfortune, is forgiving them the first thing on our mind? We even realize that our unforgiving, hateful attitude hurts us more than it hurts the person we despise. Are there any good feelings, any pleasant experiences, that come out of resentment? Doesn’t it leave us miserable, sour, grumpy? Still, we hold on to it, especially when no apologies are forthcoming. Then Jesus’ forgiving words confront us. They expose our unforgiving hearts.
Then we need to remember that the main reason Jesus was hanging here was just because we fail to be like him. He was hanging here to secure the very forgiveness for us that we find so hard to offer to others. And that is why the forgiveness he speaks comforts my heart as well.