April 5, 2020
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”— Luke 23:34 —
The practice of forgiveness is still the most perplexing and compelling witness to the reality of God’s reign in this world.
Because we have no earthly reason to let go of the hurts that others inflict on us, and every earthly reason to hold onto them until they are rectified (read “avenged”). Truly, all the human wisdom of the world says we should meditate on those hurts, so that we can protect ourselves from any such pain from ever touching us again.
But Jesus taught us differently, and the world has been forever changed. Jesus said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37c, cf. Matthew 6:14-15, 18:23-35).
People want to make this simple teaching complex, giving detailed techniques for forgiving someone. But, in my experience, people don’t really need help knowing how to forgive someone. What they want is justification for not forgiving someone. We instinctively know what Jesus wants from us, I believe. Jesus is asking us to put down the rock of calcified pain that we clutch and want to throw in retaliation.
And more than merely teaching this, Jesus did it. If anyone had cause for unforgiveness, for holding a grudge against another, it is Jesus. Consider his suffering: Jesus was falsely accused in a sham trial; he was condemned by verdict of the mob he came to save; he was mocked and derided by soldiers of the occupying regime; and he was unjustly executed in public as a political criminal to be made an example of.
Now consider Jesus’ actual standing: Jesus is the eternal judge of all humanity. Jesus alone has the authority to condemn and to sentence human sin eternally. And at the moment when all human sin was bearing its full wrath against Jesus, Jesus utters the unimaginable: “Forgive them.”
In that moment, Jesus revealed that his reign, his kingdom, was wholly other than the kingdoms and reigns of this world. Jesus’ authority, his sovereignty over all things, was so absolute that even ultimate suffering could be forgiven and redeemed.
Beloved, these words were spoken as much for you and I, as they were for the Jewish public and religious authorities and Roman soldiers who were directly responsible. Because the weight of the suffering that Jesus bore in his flesh on the cross was the weight of our sin, mine and yours. And even at the height of his suffering, Jesus forgives us of our sin, opening the way for our redemption and freedom from the world’s system of retaliation and retribution.
Lord Jesus, full of grace and steadfast love,
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,
So that we might be free in you:
Free from our sin and pain, and free to proclaim your mercy with our whole lives.
For your name’s sake, and for the advance of your good news.