11-19-19 - Forgive Them

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

One of the biggest obstacles early followers of Jesus had in spreading the Good News was what Paul refers to as “the scandal of the cross.” It’s hard enough to support the claim that your spiritual leader is a human being who is also the divine son of God, and that this human/divine person was killed and buried and yet managed to rise from the dead. But the notion of a holy man crucified? Crucifixion was one of Rome’s worst forms of execution, reserved for the lowest criminals and revolutionaries. This was crazy.

“But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles,” Paul insisted after noting that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom.” He continues: “But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Cor.1:22-24)

It is hard to associate power and wisdom with a naked, beaten, helpless man nailed to a cross. Yet that is exactly what the Christian story invites us to do, to see beneath the outward image to the spiritual reality. And that reality Jesus demonstrated in a gesture of incomprehensible generosity: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." He recognizes that the Jewish leaders seeking his death and the Roman leaders carrying out the unjust sentence are so caught up in systems of human control, they cannot see the larger picture or their own complicity.

Each gospel writer stresses in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion those elements he thinks matter most. Luke, champion of the poor and outcast, who so often highlights Jesus’ compassion, puts this act of forgiveness front and center. This is the kind of kingship we are to follow – forgiveness for the unforgivable, even at the point of death.

How are you with forgiveness today? Is anyone harming or holding you back, to whom you might extend this kind of grace? Bring to mind someone you feel you need to forgive. Hold her in your mind’s eye; let the light of Christ surround him. Now put yourself into that circle of light with that person – even if you don’t like the company. This is prayer. And what we see in prayer we invite to be made real in our lives.

We do not live in a culture which prizes or admires forgiveness; many associate it with weakness. Jesus demonstrated the greatest power and wisdom in extending unmerited grace to his executioners. Jesus has extended such grace even to you, even to me. Accept it.

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