Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Forgiveness has been a theme in my life over the past few months. It seems as if I’ve been constantly seeking forgiveness, giving forgiveness, or wondering why forgiveness is being witheld and denied. And I find myself, continually coming back to the myriad of red-letter scriptures that reveal Jesus’ heart and mind when it comes to this touchy subject.
Recently, I found myself being slighted by someone once again–it was, by all means, the re-opening of an old wound that I thought was finally beginning to heal.
I found myself exasperated, and if it had not been too dramatic of a gesture for an introvert like me, I would have thrown my hands in the air when I demanded, “What does she want from me?”
Later, that evening, as I was laying in my bed, thumbing through some inspirational devotional book, I couldn’t take my mind off the situation. Just as I thought I had banished the worry from my mind, it would slip back in and I’d suddenly realized I’d read a paragraph or two and thought only of a situation that I had finally realized was beyond my control.
As the clock wore on into the night and I began to wonder if my troubled mind would ever allow me to wind down enough to sleep, I suddenly muttered out loud the only thing I could think that would cover how I was feeling at that moment: “Father, forgive her, she doesn’t know what she’s doing…”
And that got me to thinking about what exactly Jesus was doing on the cross.
Jesus had just been brutally beaten and humiliated. His torture was a complete one: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual…
He had been made to drag his cross up the side of a ominous rock known as a place of death. With each step, he knew he was dragging his implement of death to his dying spot.
Nails had just been driven through his hands and feet. His bleeding body had been hoisted up, dangling before a jeering crowd, his own body weight slowly suffocating his body.
Breath was short and precious on that cross. And with the exception of the handful of friends who had braved the crowds to witness the brutal execution, the crowd was there to cheer on his death. They were the same poeple who had jeered at him in the palace courtyard. They were the same people who cried out for a rebel and a murderer to be released rather than the peaceful Jesus. They were the ones who had cried, “Crucify him!”
And even his friends had come to watch him die.
Every one in that crowd was there to watch Jesus die. Every. Single. One.
And with what little breath Jesus could find, he cries out, “Forgive them!”
He didn’t ask for the forgiveness of only some of them. He asked for forgiveness for all of them. Every. Single. One.
Many of them who had gathered at that dreadful place that day would never accept that Jesus was their savior. Many would not beleive in him, even after all that was about to happen after the cross. Some of them didn’t care one way or another about Jesus–they were just following orders to see yet another execution carried out and to make sure the crowds did not become unruly. Some had schemed and lied and manipulated against Jesus to ensure his death.
And only a few even beleived in him. And even they, in the menacing shadow of the cross, had their doubts about what Jesus really was as they watched his life slowly drain away. Even they wouldn’t know for a few more days just how the story was going to pan out.
And yet Jesus asked the Father to forgive them. Each and every one of them.
He didn’t ask that God would forgive only the ones who lived holy. He was asking for the forgiveness of the Gentiles along with the Jews–for the forgivenss of people who didn’t know the first thing about living righteous lives with God as well as for the people who knew God’s law inside and out.
He didn’t ask that God would forgive only the ones who had been kind to him. Or the ones who agreed with him. Or the ones who recognized him as the Messiah.
He asked that they all be forgiven.
Jesus asked for the forgiveness of them all: Saint and sinner alike.
Of all the miracles we witnessed on the cross and beyond it, that gesture of forgiveness is the most important.
It was complete. It was total. And it was for everyone.
That’s the kind of forgiveness we, as Christians, need to learn to share with each other, and with the rest of the world around us.
Too often, we connect conditions to our forgiveness. (I’ll forgive you if you acknowledge I’m right and you’re wrong.)
Too often, we withold forgiveness because we assume we are being righteous by taking our stand, or we think the person in need of forgivenss needs to demonstrate her understanding of her need for forgivness. We assume we can’t forgive until the person actually seeks it, or until they start living the way we want them to.
But the miracle on the cross was that Jesus didn’t withold anything from us.
Though we could not see what we were doing, though we would never be as righteous as he, though we had no clue that even needed it, and though many of us would refuse it, Jesus offered us forgivness. Uncontional, flawless, beautiful forgiveness.
There is nothing more powerful, more perfect, more loving, than to be the person who, although hurt and bleeding and wounded has the boldness of heart to look at God and say, “Yes, she hurt me… but please, forgive her.”
We surrender our right to vindication when we do that. We give up the hope of revenge. We don’t even cling to that old hope that at judgement day, they’ll get what’s coming to them. Because we’ve just asked God to erase that hurt, that wrong, that transgression from the books.