Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. We have arrived at Palm Sunday and Holy Week. This weekend, we listen to the events of the Lord’s passion being read from the Gospel according to Luke. It is a story packed with emotion, drama, betrayal and heroic forgiveness. Can I recommend to all who read these words to go to your bibles this weekend and slowly read the Passion according to St Luke (chapters 22:14-23:56). There is no way any homily or commentary could substitute for a prayerful reading of the passion itself.
Because Luke’s passion account is so spiritually rich, I will limit my commentary to what makes Luke’s Gospel unique – namely its emphasis on mercy. Luke’s Gospel is the one where Jesus forgives his killers as they nailed him to the cross: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’.
To understand how great is his forgiveness we first pause to consider how great was the wrong done to him. They had unjustly condemned him to death; they had scourged him and lacerated his body; they had crowned him with thorns, mocked him, spat at him. Now as they nailed him to the cross he begged his Father to forgive them. Here with the cross, we see humanity at its worst: man’s inhumanity to man, the cruelty that we inflict on each other and that we see all too often. But as humanity descended to its worst, God’s power is seen at its best with his forgiveness: that despite everything, he is prepared to forgive, to make excuses for us so that we might be pardoned. Here is a divine generosity that is prepared to go much further to relieve us of the burden of guilt, to excuse and to understand. Here is forgiveness that the world has never know that flows from the strength of his love for us: the love of a God who will look for every reason to forgive and to understand.
The soldiers had not asked for forgiveness and yet Jesus asks it for them. How much more then will it be given to us who ask for it? We must never doubt that we can be forgiven when we ask for mercy. Forgiveness is a beautiful part of God’s nature and is the faithful companion of our sorrow. Jesus only asks us for this: that he looks into our hearts and finds sorrow there for any wrong that we have done.
Luke’s passion also contains the account of the good thief who asked to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom before the Lord responded with the magnificent promise that ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. Jesus offers forgiveness to a thief in a measure beyond what he could have hoped for. The exchange between Jesus and the thief on the cross speaks of an encounter between Jesus and a repentant, broken sinner. It speaks of great hope and a great mercy that is offered to all, especially to those who need it most, right until we take our last breath.
We notice the difference between what the good thief asks for and what he receives. As a condemned man, he asks Jesus simply to remember him in his kingdom. Not only did Jesus promise him that he would be remembered but that he was forgiven, totally and completely there and then. But that was not all. Jesus went further to promise him paradise that very day. What divine generosity, what abundant and reckless outpouring of forgiveness that goes beyond what we could possible hope for! But this is how it always is with God. The measure of his gifts are not the same as ours. We must never despair or give up hope because of what Jesus offers the good thief.
Friends, we wish you a prayerful and special holy week. We invite all of our parishioners to come and join us for all of the Easter ceremonies. Come and walk with us as we enter into the great mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection – the heart of our faith and hope for the world.