Famous Last Words:”Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Luke 23v33-34, CEB
When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The first word Jesus speaks on the cross is both surprising and unsurprising at the same time. It is surprising because victims of crucifixion (or rebels, depending on which side of the empire you find yourself) were not known for kind gestures from their crosses. More common responses included calling down curses, and even urinating on those doing the crucifying.

Yet, for Jesus, these words, “Father, forgive them…,” are exactly what we have come to expect from him. It’s really no surprise that the one who would physically touch someone with a skin disease or another condition that made them “impure,” or who would associate himself with tax collectors, prostitutes, and “sinners,” would also be extending forgiveness to the very people who were killing him.

Forgiveness, for Jesus, is the first word. Not condemnation. Not shame or guilt. Not all the ways we could’ve performed better or been holier. Jesus begins with forgiveness, with an announcement that what we are looking for, what we’ve been trying to measure up to or somehow earn, is already ours.

And it’s ours whether we know it or even like it. These Roman soldiers and religious elite don’t seem to be making many apologies. Far from it, actually. They are insulting, mocking, belittling. And Jesus is forgiving. 

Perhaps that’s why the author of Ephesians uses this example of forgiveness to invite us into a better way to be human. In chapter four, verse thirty-two we are challenged to “Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” Essentially, we are called to extend what we have discovered is true: we are loved, accepted, embraced, forgiven.

Perhaps the greatest way we can honor the death of Jesus is to model his radical, generous forgiveness in our own lives and relationships. 

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