February 4, 2018
Last Words: Father, Forgive Them
The first of Jesus’s seven statements uttered from the cross is perhaps the best known: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This word still resonates to us down through the ages, as shocking to our ears as it was to the first to hear it. As the nails were driven through his arms and feet, Jesus’s prayer was not a desperate plea for escape from the cross, but rather a compassionate request for the forgiveness of those who, in their ignorance, were executing him.
We sense the power of this statement all the more when we understand that, through our own sin and rebellion against God, we have also participated in the crucifixion of Jesus. While we were not there, we remember. As the hymn goes, “Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon his shoulders. Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers.” We are all complicit in his death, and therefore we are all among those for whom Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
To be a Christian is to be in the strange place of being both a perpetrator and beneficiary of Jesus’s crucifixion. We did it, and we are forgiven of it. And not just of that sin, but of every sin we have ever committed. We are forgiven so that we can be set free from the sin that enslaves us. We are forgiven so that we can become the people of God. Crucified on Passover, Jesus has become, for us, the means of our emancipation from our slavery to sin and death. Not only that, but as he prayed, “Father, forgive them,” he has become our atoning sacrifice, once and for all, so that no other sacrifice need ever be made.