The last words

The Tre Ore, or Three Hours of Agony, is usually a reflection of the last words of Jesus on Good Friday, conducted between noon and 3 PM. Rather than try to squeeze a reflection of each phrase into one post, I thought it would be better to spend each week this Lent reflecting on just one of the seven last phrases Jesus spoke on the cross. 

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

This text is often referenced when we are urged to forgive family and friends who have become estranged to us, or who have caused harm to the relationship we have with them. It is lifted up as the model for all Christians: to forgive others, regardless of what they have done to you, up to and including death. However, our human nature continues to grasp for control over situations and experiences; we may say we forgive another, but end up holding on to the hurt and sometimes using it as a weapon against the person who originally wronged us. In trying to avoid future hurt, we want to be the first ones to strike in defense of ourselves. 

True forgiveness calls us to not only let the hurt go, but to let God be the judge — that is to give God control of that relationship. Those who offend us may not realize the hurt they have caused, and at the same time, we may not realize what the offender has going on in their life that made them say or do what we found offensive. While this does not excuse their actions, we cannot correctly judge another as we do not know what was in their mind and heart. 

Forgiveness of deep hurt takes not only time, but Divine intervention. It’s not something we can immediately will ourselves to do. The feeling of being hurt can be overwhelming. We may even call to mind this text, but waves of hurt continue to wash over us, threatening to drown out any possibility of forgiveness. Did Jesus feel this way on the cross? Is that why He made sure to speak these words aloud, so that we could follow in His footsteps of asking the Father to help us when we want to forgive others when our pain is too great? 

It’s all too easy for us reading this line over 2,000 years later, to feel entitled to judge the actions of the Jewish leaders and the Roman soldiers. They crucified an innocent man and we have a tendency to condemn their actions. We want to shake a pointed finger at them and tell them how bad they are for killing Jesus. Yet Jesus pleads to the Father on their behalf, asking for mercy since the people involved didn’t understand the magnitude of what was happening. How can we condemn the leaders and soldiers for their actions, when Jesus and the Father have forgiven them? Perhaps these words are also meant for us not to judge those who did treat Jesus poorly and to forgive them as Jesus and the Father did. Maybe this is the first challenge for us as Christians: to take that wagging finger and point it back to ourselves, as it is our sins from yesterday, today, and tomorrow that required Jesus to be put to death. 

To forgive is to literally give up the claim of punishment or revenge. Forgiveness is truly a gift of love. It takes both prayer and practice. During this Lent we can reflect on where we need to practice forgiveness in our relationships and pray to Jesus and the Father to help us give this gift to others so that we can begin to repair the broken relationships and perhaps be forgiven of the wrongs we have caused to others.   

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