This is the first in a series of posts on the Seven Last Words of Our Lord from the cross. This series will continue through Lent. There is a menu and a posting schedule at the bottom of this post.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
Forgiveness IS NOT ONLY Something nice to do it is a hallmark of Christianity. Ancient religions are filled with curses, imprecations, taboos, and days of impropriety. Many of the traditions allowed for paybacks of some kind: debt which had to be paid, curses which had to be undone, ditches that had to be filled. If you read the earlier books to indicate that the “Jewish God” was like this, you’d be wrong, though. It’s not correct to say the God of the Old Testament demanded repayment: as if the blood of bulls or of goats could repay for sins. Sin took life – the very life force – from one. Sacrifice restore that balance but it did not forgive. God taught us in the sacrificial rites that something was off. Something was amiss in humanity. Something needed fixing.
Sin is a symptom of this sickness.
In the case of God, responding to Christ’s intercession forgiveness is instant and forever and for all involved. When Christ begs forgiveness here, it’s not just for the soldiers at his feet, it’s literally for you and me as well. We suffer from this thing amiss which has, as a presenting symptom, sin in general and each of our discrete acts of sin in particular. Christ begs forgiveness for us all and the Father offers it to us all.
But the thing amiss won’t even let us accept God’s Gift of forgiveness. To accept the forgiveness offered is to say we are wrong. This one thing amiss is so ingrained in us that we feel like it’s our true human nature. It’s almost like our identity: it’s who we are – or who we feel we are – and to accept forgiveness is to admit that who we thought we were is not who we were intended to be. We are addicted to shoring up this fake identity. We build arches and buttresses, fortifications and ramparts designed to prop up this imaginary thing. This thing is thinking that we are God, we are self-made, we can do whatever we want. To accept forgiveness is to admit that that is a lie, that our entire identity and sense of self is smoke and mirrors.
We learn to think this from our parents and from generation after generation of our predecessors. We come to imagine that to accept this forgiveness is somehow to betray them as well. So ingrained is this sickness, this fake identity that to accept this forgiveness is to die in a real way. To accept this forgiveness to be crucified. Jesus prays from the cross for our forgiveness he’s inviting us to join him.
Saint Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live. Yet not I but Christ who lives in me.”
When we die, Christ lives, and we are forgiven.
The curious gift of this forgiveness is that once we accept it, once we accept that we are not God, we are given the Divine ability to forgive others in exactly the same way.
And so, from the Cross of our lives, we can hang suspended in pain and bleeding and still say, “Forgive.”
We can take every gift God has given us in the death of Jesus only by admitting that we are not God and that we need these gifts. But in doing so we become empowered to dispense those gifts to all around us.
And, like Jesus on the Cross, we have the divine gift to offer forgiveness even to those who do not seek it, who may even reject it if they knew we offered it.