October 24, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news from Luke 23:32-38.
Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”] They divided his garments by casting lots. The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
The verse in brackets is not found in the earliest manuscripts according to the New American Bible. This prayer of forgiveness does not appear in any of the other gospels. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary believes that it is authentic, however. “The language and thought are Lucan: Father; forgiveness of sins because of ignorance. Luke balances Stephen’s prayer (Acts 7:60) with that of Jesus. Luke has sayings of Jesus in each main section of the crucifixion narrative. The inclusion of a saying here conforms to Lucan artistry. Jesus’ prayer is part and parcel of Luke’s theology of rejected prophet and of a Jesus who teaches and practices forgiveness of enemies.”
I find these words of Jesus extraordinarily comforting. They are salve for my broken heart. I prefer Luke’s account of the crucifixion because it is not as graphic and Mark’s or Matthew’s. I always want to close my eyes, my mind, to those reports when I hear or read them. Mainly I prefer it because of these final words of forgiveness for my ignorance, my blindness, my malice. Jesus was always true to his word; he practiced what he preached even in the face of death. As Barclay writes, “Jesus said many wonderful things, but rarely anything more wonderful than [this]….There is nothing so lovely and nothing so rare as Christian forgiveness….Others may have in their hearts the unforgiving spirit, others may sin in ignorance; but we know better. We are Christ’s men and women; and we must forgive as he forgave.” I like that phrase, “We are Christ’s men and women.” To me it says more than that we are Christians. To me it means that were are his — we are his disciples, we are his champions, we are his instruments. To say that we are Christians speaks to me more of theology and of exclusive membership that is less personal, less demanding.
Johnson in The Gospel of Luke sums it up well, “But as the reader of the Gospel to this point well understands, it is through faith that God has brought salvation in the words and deeds of Jesus. The reader has also learned that salvation does not consist in political liberation or the perpetuation of life, but rather in the restoration of God’s people through the forgiveness of sins.” We are restored to God through His forgiveness of our sins and through our forgiveness of one another’s sins.
Luke is at pains here to separate the Jewish rulers or authorities from the people. The rulers mocked him while the people observed this tragedy and returned to their homes beating their breasts. The mindset of the authorities recalls the Book of Wisdom written about one hundred years before Jesus. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the LORD. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like other men’s, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. WIth revilement and torture let up put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him. These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God.”
And yet Jesus asked for his Father to forgive them. Whether Luke actually wrote this prayer of Jesus or not, that was the heart and mind of Jesus. That was his mission as the Messiah, to restore us to God our Father through the forgiveness of sins. We can’t earn our salvation; it is given to us by the grace of God. That’s a good thing because I would never make it.