“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
I doubt these would have been my first words.
In fact, I know they would not have been. I know, because even now, in the midst of my comfortable, insulated, well-fed and well-loved life, where what often feel like sins against me are more likely just inconveniences; even now, these are not my first words. They are not often words that arise naturally at all, and especially when the injury is of any significance. Of course they knew what they were doing, my wounded heart cries! And even if not, the pain doesn’t lessen. How can forgiveness be His very first word after betrayal?
But of course forgiveness is not an absence of pain, an erasure of betrayal, or an act of the will. Forgiveness is a Divine act, a heaven touching earth moment, a choice of redemption in brokenness, the truth of eternal relationships within temporal ones. And forgiveness is only possible when our heart has sat at the foot of this Cross and known itself seen in the dying compassion of Christ.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not say “I forgive them, Father?” Instead, He appeals to the Father: please! Forgive them. Is this because Christ was somehow unable to do the forgiving Himself? Never. He is in the midst of proving by His very act of sacrifice the cost and extent of His forgiveness. But maybe in the humanity of Christ’s cry we see a glimpse of another truth: that forgiveness is one of the hardest things we are called to do, for it asks for an act as well as a feeling. It starts with sacrifice, then demands compassion, and we are capable of neither without a pleading appeal to the Father.
Sacrifice. Sacrifice was the means to forgiveness in the history of God’s relationship with His people, ever since that moment when God killed to cover Adam and Eve’s shame. Christ knew His role, and these words are a prophetic appeal of compassion to the heart of God from the One who knows He is about to change everything about how humanity can reach it. Does the Father need reminded? No, but the ones nailing Christ’s wrists to the cross did. The ones mocking from the ground and from his side did. This cry came from One who knew fully His role as sacrificial Lamb, undoubtedly, but it also came from the relational, time-bound heart of a man, and it is perhaps that example that pierces me most deeply. In that moment of ultimate physical suffering and alone-ness, Christ did not turn inward, but looked out and saw those around Him. Father, even these! His compassion cries. They are blind to the meaning of this moment, to the truth of who I am. Oh Father, is it possible? Can this sacrifice be for even these? The aching compassion of the truest love this world has ever seen breaks my heart in its example of attentiveness. In His moment of deepest injury, of betrayal none of us will ever know, even then, Christ was pleading for others.
Every day, the Lamb sits on His throne and points to the eternality of that moment over and over and over again. Every day, for my soul, Christ turns to the Father, saying, “Father, forgive her. She knows not what she does.” And God looks at Christ, dying on that cross, and me lost in that shadow, and says to me, I do, beloved, I do.
May we never diminish Christ’s compassion by disbelieving our seen-ness; our belovedness. May we never be ashamed to everyday give evidence of our need for the cross. May we never forget that we dwell within the relational heart of Christ, with His strength beyond our own for all that it asks of us. And may we respond with willingness to the truth that mostly, what is asked of us in this Cross-shadowed life is the everyday dying of a thousand deaths: deaths to myself, and deaths to others. Sacrifice for the sake of relationship, compassion as the fruit of love.