Fr Billy Swan
I remember the weeks and days before my Father died in November 2011. As his strength gradually ebbed away and as he became weaker, he said less and less. But on the occasions when he did speak, we listened with as much attentiveness as we could and to this day, we remember some of the last words he spoke. Every sentence was full of meaning, no word was wasted as he spoke to us from the sacred space he was in: between life and death and on the threshold between this world and the next.
For Jesus’ disciples, it was the same. As he entered his passion and died on the cross, Jesus was also in that sacred space, standing between us and the Father, between life and death as he spoke to us from that holy place. These were his last and most beautiful words that summed up what his whole life was about: a life totally committed to the Father and to us whom he loved. These are his ‘seven last words’. Let us listen to them again. The first meditation is posted here with another tomorrow and so on.
‘FATHER, FORGIVE THEM FOR THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING’
‘Now they were also leading out two others, criminals, to be executed with him. When they reached the place called The Skull, there they crucified him and the two criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing' (Luke 23:34)
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: ‘they do not know what they do’. 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. It would seem the soldiers were in fact, fully aware of what they were doing. Their actions are to be condemned and they must be held responsible. Yet Jesus loved those soldiers as he loves us and forgives while ignoring questions that we ask. We insist that someone must be accountable, someone is to blame, someone must pay. But for our Lord, he prays: ‘they do not know what they are doing’. Here is forgiveness that the world has never known and 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.
Is there a message from God that could possibly be more welcome than the gift of his forgiveness? Were there ever words so sweet for those weighed down by guilt and sin? For all of us, there are always the memories of foolishness and weakness from the past that come back to trouble us. But when they do, let us listen to the gentle voice within us: ‘Father, forgive them’. 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, for in the words of the Psalm: ‘a humble contrite heart O Lord you will not spurn’.
Lord Jesus, your dying wish for my forgiveness reveals the depth of your love. Deepen my belief in your love and give me the faith to know that I am forgiven and healed by your passion.