Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 29, 1999
Forgiveness from the cross
Even after having read and heard the story of the crucifixion a hundred times, one cannot fail to be struck by the suffering of Jesus. He was mocked, beaten, whipped, given the run-around by society's leaders, tortured, jeered at and finally killed. Reading the story, one can only feel profound sorrow for this man who was so cruelly treated.
Yet, in the midst of it, as he hung from the cross suffering excruciating pain, he spoke the words which might transform our lives: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
On our good days, when all is going well, we might be able to say "I forgive you" to someone who has treated us poorly and comes back contrite. Other days, we might be able to offer a pseudo-forgiveness - a forgiveness which says the words, but which hangs on to the sin, which uses that sin and one's own supposedly magnanimous forgiveness to assert one's own moral superiority.
How we love to be on top! And being the victim of another's sin provides a glorious opportunity to be there.
The novelist P.G. Wodehouse once said, "It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them." He goes too far, but his words do contain a truth.
Jesus sought no advantage. He hung on the cross, powerless, facing death, having nothing to gain. His only possible advantage might have been to make his persecutors feel guilty for the horror they were putting him through. Guilt, however, was not a prospect for them. They had executed dozens, maybe hundreds, of other condemned men.
Jesus did not address them, but the Father. "They don't know what they are doing," he said. "Forgive them." Wracked with pain, he says everything is OK with these torturers. These people are good. They are confused, misled and afraid. They are powerless, weak and lonely. But they are good.
These are words we all need to hear. We too are powerless and afraid. We mess up horribly too. But God's love remains true. Before we were conceived in the womb, God loved us and he won't change his mind now.
The dynamic of the parable of the prodigal son is the same. The older brother wants to take advantage of the prodigal's contrition to assert his own moral superiority. But the father looks past that. He looks to the basic goodness of the prodigal and throws a party in grand style.
We all need to hear those words - "Father, forgive her for she knows not what she does." We need to hear our confusion, our infidelity and our despair recognized and then swept away by a gentle, but powerful wave of love. We need to be fully, lovingly forgiven so that we are empowered to forgive others.
Forgiveness is the supreme source of hope in this world. It says sin does not last. Sin has power only if we give it power. We do not have to hang on to the wrongs and perceived wrongs of our enemies until the third and fourth generation. We do not have to see ourselves as victims.
At the most devastating moment in human history - when the Messiah is being tortured and killed - we hear his clear call that all will be well. All does not seem well. It seems like humanity has committed the unforgivable sin. It seems like things can never be fixed.
But in the midst of his pain and suffering, Jesus, the Son of God and the son of the carpenter, knows the deeper truth. He knows of our confusion and fear. He knows that God's love can penetrate even this sin of murdering the Saviour. If we are open to that love, all will be well.
Amidst the gloom of Good Friday, Jesus gives us a hope which goes beyond words.
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