Photography by D. Plasman
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Church tradition acknowledges that Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness comprises the first words he speaks from the cross. On several levels, it’s curious why Jesus prays “Father, forgive them” instead of saying “I forgive you.” Because Jesus is the object and target of their abuses and taunts, it would seem his choice to forgive or not to forgive them. Recall also the incident (Luke 5:17-26) of the disabled man lowered through the roof by his four friends; on that occasion, Jesus announces, “Your sins are forgiven.” Why not make the same announcement from the cross?
I don’t know the answer or whether there is one, but I suspect there may be a relationship between Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them,” and the lack of specificity in the word “them.” Who is “them”? To whom is Jesus referring? The soldiers obeying orders? It would seem so, but does Jesus’ prayer stop with the soldiers? Does “them” also include Pilate, who gave the order? And what about the array of religious leaders and temple thugs who plotted against him? What about the disciples who fled, and Peter who three times denied him, and Judas who betrayed him?
Where does “them” begin and where does “them” end? What’s the limit? Might “them” include all those present that day, all those who had lived before that day, and even all those who have lived since that day? Does Jesus’ prayer—vast in time and boundless in place—become a reality when the one universal God hears it? If so, is there anything or anyone who stands outside the scope of this prayer?
On a scale of 1(low) to 10 (high), how large is your circle of “them”?
[This reflection is one of 365 that appear in my book: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, available at Amazon.]