33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing Luke 23
To most people when they see the sign LOCKERBIE on the motorway it simply means they are near a small town in southern Scotland. When I see the word LOCKERBIE it conjures up memories of unimaginable horror and evil because I was an eyewitness to the PAM Flight 103 disaster. As a young police officer in 1988 I saw the carnage and human suffering that a bomb on Jumbo jet caused. I can’t hear or see the word LOKCERBIE without thinking about the horrific things I saw there.
Luke’s first readers would have had much the same experience when they heard the word “CRUCIFIED.” Sadly in the Roman world crucifixion was not rare. Everyone in the empire at some time or another would have witnessed the horrific cruelty and pain inflicted on those who were crucified. The likelihood is that the first generations of readers of Luke’s Gospel would have passed by the spot outside their town where those who were crucified hung dying a slow agonizing death. They would have heard those men crying out in pain and calling down curses on the roman soldiers on guard.
Knowing what they knew about crucifixion Jesus words from the cross would have been completely unexpected “Father, forgive them … ” Jesus had been betrayed and abandoned by friends, been subject to a kangaroo court and denied justice because of political expediency. He had been experienced torture so severe that it often killed men and then he had been nailed to a cross and left to die, slowly and painfully. To all those who were responsible for all of that, Jesus said “Father, forgive them”
If those words of forgiveness were unexpected for Luke’s first readers, I suspect they weren’t for the small group of his family and disciples who had had the courage to gather at the foot of his cross. They had heard Jesus teach 43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:33 Now Jesus was “walking the talk” when it came to the Kingdom of God and forgiveness. He was showing that he had been really serious about forgiving enemies and those who persecute you. Jesus was demonstrating that his teaching was not theoretic but was meant to be lived out in the crucible of real life. When the theoretic turned to reality Jesus walked the talk on forgiveness.
What about us?
It’s easy to nod in agreement when we hear Jesus’ words about forgiving our enemies and those who persecute us. But what happens when the chips are down? When people actually treat us with cruelty and inflict pain on us? What do we do then?
Today is Good Friday and what happened that fateful Friday so many years ago to Jesus challenges us as to whether as his disciples we will follow Jesus and walk the talk on forgiveness. What will we do when friends betray us? How will we respond when those we thought we could rely on abandon us when we need them most? How will we react to those who treat us unjustly and inflict pain on us?
If Jesus forgave those who betrayed him, those who abandoned him, those who subjected him to injustice and pain then there is no one that we can say is beyond his call to us to forgive our enemies, whatever they have done to us. On the Cross was suffering in order that we might be forgiven by God but also showing how we are to forgive others and of course he taught consistently that when we experience the former we must be committed to the latter,