Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Imagine this scene. Roman authorities and Jewish religious leaders have conspired together to arrest, beat and put Jesus on trial with trumped up charges. He is convicted and experiences public humiliation and scorn as he carries his crucifixion cross through the streets of Jerusalem. He is nailed to that cross and experiences dreadful pain and suffering before he dies.
While he hung from the cross, leaders scoffed at him saying, “‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him saying ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’” (Luke 23:35-36)
Jesus responded to those who betrayed him, testified falsely against him, beat him, placed a crown of thorns on his head and nailed him to a cross to die by praying: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
For me, Jesus’ divinity is revealed in his incredible ability to ask God to forgive those who were killing him and rejoicing in their victory over him. When people have harmed us, we are more likely to ask God to punish them than to forgive them.
However, Jesus practiced what he preached. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
During Holy Week, as I re-read the passion story of Christ, his prayer for forgiveness for those who crucified him always stands out for me. It reminds me to remember those who have hurt me and to pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Can you think of someone who has hurt you? Our human tendency is to resent them and seek to hurt them as they have hurt us. As followers of Jesus, however, we are called to ask God to forgive them. When our pain and suffering is great, we may not be able to forgive someone immediately, but we can ask God to forgive them and hope for the time when we can forgive them ourselves.
Our resentment towards those who have hurt us is like a cancer growing within us and can destroy us. Forgiveness is painful but ultimately healing for us. If we are abused by someone, we may need to remove ourselves from that situation, but until we can ask God to forgive them, we will continue to be trapped in our anger and resentment. We forgive others so we can also be free.
Jesus went through unbearable pain and death, and, out of his suffering and crucifixion, God brought him resurrection and new life. The truth is that we all go through times of suffering, but we live with the faith that out of every crucifying experience we go through, God seeks to bring resurrection and new life to us. Thanks be to God!
Reflect on Jesus’ suffering and death during Holy Week and rejoice in his resurrection on Easter Sunday!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Kent Millard, President
United Theological Seminary