“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Who is “they”? Who is the Lord forgiving? And, what do you mean, “they know not what they do”?
I guess Jesus must be referring to the Roman soldiers who were responsible for torturing, jeering and crucifying him. And yes, also Pilate for succumbing to the crowd. All of them thought they were just doing their jobs.
Perhaps, Jesus must be referring to the Jewish leaders who instigated the whole affair and plotted his death. Annas rationalised it by saying, “It’s better for one man to die than for an entire nation to perish!” They cover themselves with the blanket of patriotism where in fact they were all jealous of Jesus and were threatened by his growing influence upon the people. They were looking out for themselves and their own interests.
They could be the crowd that used to follow Jesus around but who with a little prodding from their leaders, chose to free Barabbas, a hardened criminal, over Jesus. Before, they cried “Hosannas” to Jesus and now, they change their tune and shout, “Crucify him!” Their change of mind, their change of allegiance shows that they are the type of people who were just “going for the highest bidder.”
And yes, maybe Judas, his very good and trusted friend who betrayed him for pieces of silver. Maybe Judas, by pushing Jesus into a corner wanted to force him to reveal himself as the promised Messiah. Or maybe, Peter and the other disciples who promised to be with him to death but when ‘real threat’ came, they ran away and hid themselves among the crowd.
Then Jesus, added, for “they know not what they do”. I don’t know but it sounds to me like Jesus is just making excuses for the people he is trying to forgive. This is actually so typical of God: God has been known to do this quite often in Scriptures. He is quick to change his mind about destroying entire cities at the slightest excuse. He is just so eager to forgive. He is the same here on the cross.
Maybe all the 5 groups can also be found in ourselves. Maybe they can serve as our examination of conscience this coming Holy week.
· Like Pilate and the Roman soldiers, we say we are just doing our job. How many times have we rationalized doing something by saying that we’re just following orders?
· Like the Jewish leaders, we are just looking out for ourselves. How many times have we ended up hurting other people because of our own self-interests?
· Like the fickle crowd, we prefer to go for the highest bidder. How many times have we traded our principles and values for a better deal?
· Like Judas, we presume to think we are doing other people a favour. How many times have we harmed other people because we did not respect them enough and wanted to run their lives and make their decisions for them?
Like Peter and the other fair-weathered followers of Jesus, we’re just plain too scared to do anything. How many times have we looked the other way or pretended not to see because we were too afraid of getting involved?
When Jesus forgives on the cross, he forgives us too: the Roman in us, the Pharisee in us, the ‘Barabbas-lover’ in us, the Judas in us, and the Peter in us.
All this reveals a couple of important things about God. The first words uttered by Jesus on the cross show us the kind of God we have.
He is a God who forgives even when it hurts and a God who makes excuses for us.
Fr Sherwin Lapaan