As we count down to Sunday (one of the greatest days in the Christian year) I’ll use the next few days, to consider the seven words spoken by Christ on the cross as he died.
The first word spoken by Christ that fateful Friday was this:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
These words of Jesus are only found in Luke’s Gospel, and they come soon after the crucifixion of Christ by the Roman soldiers. The timing of this phrase suggests that Jesus asks his Father primarily to forgive his enemies – the soldiers, who have scourged, mocked and tortured him, and who have just nailed him to the cross.
It’s a remarkable scene – not only has Jesus endured the horrible pain of the nails through his limbs, there has been the stream of verbal abuse from some of those who were standing nearby with words such as:
“if you are who you say, well free yourself”
And yet, in the midst of such mockery and undeserved abuse, Jesus asks the Father to forgive his tormentors.
Christianity has often described as a religion of grace; grace being defined as an act of great favour and immense kindness towards those who don’t deserve it. Well surely here, with these wonderful words of Jesus, we’re presented with what a gracious king he is. Here he is, in so much pain, being laughed at by his enemies and what does he do? He asks for their forgiveness. They didn’t ask for it, they didn’t deserve it, but Jesus prays for it nonetheless.
This reminds us of one of Jesus’ famous adages about how we are to treat our enemies:
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
Those are Jesus’ challenging words about how we are to treat our enemies viz. that we are to love them enemies and pray for them. A far cry compared to a prayer that Voltaire once prayed:
“O Lord, make my enemies look ridiculous.”
How different to Christ’s charitable approach. He calls us to love and pray for those who seek our harm! What an incredibly high standard.
Once during a conversation with a parishioner I was visiting, I mentioned these words to which the response was:
“Wow! I don’t even love all my friends and family”
And that’s the challenge isn’t it? We sometimes struggle to love even those close to us and yet Jesus commands us to love our enemies.
And the thing with Jesus is that he didn’t just say it – he lived it out as well:
“Father forgive them for they know what they do”
What a great King Jesus Christ is. He doesn’t just talk the talk he walks the walk as well. He doesn’t just say to us “do such and such” and not do it himself. Jesus is not like the parent who says to their child “don’t ever say rude words OR use bad language” but who themselves actually speak disrespectfully and endlessly swear! In Jesus Christ, we have the perfect Saviour who even in death lived the perfect life, forgiving those who didn’t deserve it.
And so as we remember him, this gracious King, this one who is utterly unique, this One who is like no other religious leader, who is like no other friend, no spouse or parent or for that matter anyone else, as we consider this Jesus and his exemplary life, we who are Christians should rejoice. We have such a great saviour – a saviour who prays for the unlovely and forgives those like you and I who did not deserve it – what a Saviour!