Monday 6th April
7 Last Words of Jesus
The First Word
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34
These words from Jesus are crucial to our Christian faith in St Luke's Gospel. Without them Jesus would not have been raised from the dead and would not have been glorified. Jesus was the Sacrificial Lamb, in the once and for ever great life changing, world changing, event of redemption and forgiveness.
They are not recorded in the other Gospels but St. Luke understood how important they were to understanding Jesus's mission and legacy for believers. St. Luke was writing a vindication of the Christian faith at a time of great persecution and suspicion of the early Church by the Roman Empire. It was important to show how God's love and forgiveness was being fulfilled in Jesus by his death and resurrection.
Focusing on the first three words, St Luke emphasises that Jesus is calling God his “Father” and is pleading with him when he is suffering his death pains. As Christians, we know that Jesus and God the Father are one, but on the cross Jesus was the obedient Son who suffered for all of us.
How often when we are in pain do we put it aside to pray for others?
It is so easy to get wound up in self pity or even to curse our ill-fortune. I still do a little bit of hospital chaplaincy at times, but years ago I working almost a day (actually a night) a week at Walsgrave Hospital meeting some very poorly patients. When a person had perhaps recovered from their initial self pity, I would always encourage them to pray for their fellow patients on the ward. Not only did I want as much prayer as possible to take place in the hospital, but to put aside our own misfortune is I believe a start of healing of the soul.
The second word is “forgive”, which we know to mean to pardon or to remit a debt. When forgiven we start again with a clean sheet of paper, all charges are wiped away and we become new people. Like in our baptism we are born again and can live our lives without the great burden of our sins bearing down on us.
The third word is “them”, but when Jesus said “them” who did he mean? Did Jesus mean the Roman authorities and soldiers who had crucified him, or was he referring to the Jews. This prayer was omitted from several early manuscripts because some early Christians found it impossible to believe that Jesus could forgive the Jews. In forgiving the Jews, Jesus forgave all of us who are living two thousand years later who come to the foot of the cross. St. Luke had a theology of world redemption, a divine plan, that he wanted us to experience in the life death and resurrection of Jesus. He sums this up in words attributed to St. Peter in his other great book, the Acts of the Apostles - “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it”. Acts Ch2 vs 23-24.
The last phrase “for they do not know what they do” must ring true for all of us a lot of the time. At the time of Jesus's arrest and crucifixion his disciples were confused and ran around like headless chickens, even Peter, the rock, denied he knew him when in danger of arrest. The Jewish and Roman authorities who arrested and crucified Jesus just thought that they were dealing with a religious and political troublemaker. They did not believe or could not comprehend that they were condemning the Son of God to the most brutal death imaginable, but they did know that what they were doing was vengeful, and cruel. They were acting in their own interests because they were frightened of a message of love that was outside their comprehension. As we use these words of Jesus to help us prepare for Easter, may that message of love dwell in our hearts so that it is reflected in how we live our lives for evermore.
Let us Pray:
Blessed Lord, who in thy forgiving love didst pray for those who nailed thee to the cross, and hast taught us to forgive one another as thou hast forgiven us: Take from us all bitterness and resentment towards our fellows, and give us the spirit of mutual forgiveness and brotherly love; that so, in perfect charity, we may be partakers of thy everlasting kingdom; for thy name and mercy's sake. Amen
Salisbury Book of Occasional Offices