Wednesday, 1 April 2015

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”: a sermon for Good Friday (Luke 23:26-34)

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

When Jesus spoke these words, of whom was he speaking?

Was it the Roman soldiers, those professional men of violence, who were “just obeying orders” as they carried out their grisly task of executing those who were deemed a threat to the good order of the empire?

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Or was it the leaders of his own people, the religious politicians who believed that the future was most secure if the Romans were kept happy, and who were willing to consent to the death of any person – however innocent – who threatened the Roman equilibrium?

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Or was it the crowds – the ones who shouted “Hosanna in the highest!” on Sunday afternoon and “Give us Barabbas!” on Friday morning? Crowds are always fickle, in any culture. In all societies, the mob will always be tempted to bay for the blood of a “tall poppy’, however innocent. Over the centuries, in many lands, public executions were an opportunity to draw a huge crowd to witness the gruesome spectacle. The large number of people in our country who call for restoring the death penalty says that, given half the chance, Australians could behave just as badly.

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Perhaps it was Pilate, the cruel Roman governor; the governor who was recalled to Rome for extreme cruelty by an empire which expected at least some level of cruelty as a display of political strength. When Pilate said “jump”, Roman soldier and Jewish priest alike were equally expected to ask “how high?” When the soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross, Pilate was the man ultimately responsible.

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Or perhaps it was the disciples:

  • Peter, who three times said “I do not know the man”, adding a few choice swearwords for emphasis the third time.
  • Judas, who betrayed him to those whom he knew would hand him over to the Romans;
  • or most of the others, finding safe hiding places and cowering.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
 

Or perhaps the Spirit at that moment gave Jesus a glimpse into the future.
  • Perhaps Jesus was saddened by those over the centuries who would persecute his followers.
  • Perhaps Jesus was horrified by those over the centuries who would claim to be his followers, but who would persecute people of other faiths – Jews, Muslims, and others - and who would do so in his name.
  • Perhaps Jesus was disgusted by those over the centuries who would claim to be his followers, but who would persecute suspected witches in his name; or who would persecute gays, lesbians, or unmarried mothers in his name. 
  • Perhaps Jesus was sickened by the future prospect of some over the centuries who would claim to be his followers, but who would persecute others of his followers – and who would even do so in his name.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
 
Throughout the centuries, Jesus continues to pray this prayer to his Father. He prays for us.
 
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

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