I had to write a reflection on the verse about “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” one of Jesus’ statements during the crucifixion.
This is what I wrote:
If you know me, you probably know that forgiveness is not my strong suit. Resentment is. I’m very good at resentment, and I’m VERY good at righteous anger. If I’m being wronged, or much more, if vulnerable people I’m worried about are being wronged, I can carry on my righteous anger for years.
I have spent most of my career working with, caring for, and advocating for marginalized children. I have known children who are trafficked, abused, neglected, and ignored. I have worked with children who are the victims of violence and no one cares because “that’s what happens when you live in the ghetto.”
My own personal resentments I can often forgive. Eventually and painfully but I can often do it. The righteous anger that comes from watching these children, children of God, live in such appalling conditions and understanding that it is just accepted; that they are just considered not worthy of more intervention. Well, that is a lot harder for me to let go of.
This is why I’m astounded at Jesus’ words. These people are not only executing him, they are trying to end his entire mission. He came for us, he suffered being human for us. He came because he loved us, and people were now executing him for this. He’s not the only one being wronged and hurt. All of his children are too.
I really can’t think of a better time for righteous anger. I really can’t think of a worse time for forgiveness.
And yet, Jesus’ words to God – and to us – are clear. Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.
That doesn’t usually matter to me. If they don’t know what they’re doing, well, they should figure it out. It’s not that hard to see the consequences of your actions (or inactions). That’s what goes through my mind when I’m asked to forgive. They’re hurting people. Why should I forgive that?
And yet Jesus brings his infinite love and mercy even as he is being executed. Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
If someone were to ask me what the hardest part of the Bible was for me, I wouldn’t point to complicated doctrines or problems in translation. I would instead tell them that two statements, both from Jesus, are the reasons I struggle with the Bible. “Love your enemies,” and “Father, forgive them.”
This is why being a Christian is hard for me.
Jesus came to save us, because he loves us. He doesn’t want us to hurt, which somehow is why we are asked to forgive. He doesn’t want our hearts to be hard and cold. Jesus knew, even as he was dying, that forgiveness is what opens people up, both the forgivers and the forgiven.
With forgiveness, we have to face the pain that has been caused. But we also have a chance to heal from it, and to offer the grace that we’ve received to others. Not because they deserve it. But because none of us deserve us and Jesus brought us unimaginable grace instead.