When the European missionaries came to Alberta, Canada, they were savagely opposed by many of the indigenous peoples. Among them was a young chief of the Cree named Maskepetoon. Eventually he responded to the missionary’s work, and became a Christian. Shortly afterwards, a member of the Blackfoot tribe killed his father. Maskepetoon rode into the village where the murderer lived, and demanded that he be brought before him. Confronting the guilty man, he said, “You have killed my father, so now you must be my father. You shall ride my best horse and wear my best clothes.” In utter amazement and remorse his enemy exclaimed, “My son, now you have killed me!” He meant, of course, that the hate in his own heart had been completely erased by the forgiveness and kindness he received.
It’s one thing for Jesus to call for forgiveness from the cross. However, it’s quite another for us to do that ourselves. I think it was a pretty big thing for Jesus, dying on the cross, to ask his heavenly Father to forgive the people who’d done this to him. However, that doesn’t make it any easier for us to manage to do that sometimes.
How do we forgive what we feel to be unforgivable? If any act in history is unforgivable, the act that occurred 2,000 years ago is surely the one? What could be more unforgivable than to see the Son of God, hanging from a cross? When you crucify the Son of God surely you’ve crossed the line?
Let’s think about at that statement by Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?” Who was he
talking about? Who is the “they?”
What are the options? First, there were the Roman soldiers. Obviously, they knew what they were doing, they were doing their job, crucifying someone. They knew there was a larger than usual crowd, and people seemed more vocal. But, that’s all they knew. If anybody really didn’t know what they were doing, it was these soldiers.
What about Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor? Pilate knew Jesus was called ‘the king of the Jews,’ he knew Jesus claimed to have authority from heaven, and Pilate knew from his wife that he should be afraid of Jesus, and have nothing to do with him. But, Pilate didn’t know the whole story.
What about Caiaphas and Annas, the Jewish high priests, who interrogated Jesus? They didn’t want anything to do with Jesus.
Or Judas, who was disappointed that Jesus was not the mighty Messiah he had expected and hoped he would be?
Nobody fully understood who Jesus was.
It is true in our lives, too, we don’t always know the depth of the pain we have brought upon others, just as those who’ve hurt us don’t realize how deep that hurt goes. Yet, Jesus, when he was on the cross, basically said, “Father forgive them because they need forgiveness more than they can ever imagine.”
“Father forgive them because they are in desperate need of forgiveness and they don’t even know it.”
That’s what “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” amounts to.
I think that if we think we know all about Jesus, if we’ve got him all sussed, then we probably haven’t. Likewise, if we think we all there is to know about being a Christian, or that we’ve know all that following Jesus means, we probably still have more to learn. I know I do.
Yet, when Jesus hung on the cross, was he not asking God for forgiveness to be granted to me and to you? Isn’t the “them” in that prayer to God not only for them, those other people who physically, emotionally, and spiritually tortured Jesus, but “them” was also us, me and you.
We may not think we are like those soldiers, government officials, religious leaders and even disciples. We may not consider ourselves so evil and cruel, yet do we really know what damage our words and actions might have caused to other to people?
Suddenly it’s all become rather personal. Isn’t Jesus telling us that we, too, must try to offer forgiveness? That can be impossible. Some things simply can’t be forgiven in any way or any timescale that we can see, yet is not the first step accepting that God has already forgiven us, however impossible that might seem from our human perspective?
Perhaps we may find ourselves having to forgive someone over and over, because the pain comes back to our mind again and again? Perhaps we may find ourselves trying to forgive someone who doesn’t forgive us?
Leonardo da Vinci painted his famous fresco of “The Last Supper” in a church in Milan. At the time that he painted this work he had an enemy who was a fellow painter. Da Vinci had had a bitter argument with this man and despised him. When he got to the point of painting the face of Judas Iscariot at the table with Jesus, he decided to use the face of his enemy. It brought him great pleasure to think that for ages to come others would equate his enemy with Judas, the betrayer of Christ. As weeks passed and he worked on the faces of the other disciples, he would often try to paint the face of Jesus, but couldn’t
make any progress, he had sort of a “painter’s block.” Da Vinci felt frustrated and confused. But in time he realized what was wrong. His hatred for the other painter was holding him back from finishing the face of Jesus. Only after making peace with his fellow painter and repainting the face of Judas was he able to paint the face of Jesus and complete his masterpiece. Sometimes, it’s only when we forgive that we feel we can look God in the face.
Perhaps your test is trying to forgive someone? Perhaps your test is allowing someone to forgive you? Whatever, the point is God has already forgiven you, and loves you more than you can know.
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator;
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist;
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.