I recently read a very sad article about a Christian girl who was burned alive by ISIS as her mother failed to pay a religious tax. As the girl lay dying in her mother’s arms, she said “Forgive them”. This reminds me of one of the Seven Last Words of Jesus “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34). These words, said by Jesus over two thousand years ago still echoes today in the 21st century. I recommend you read the article (click the hyperlink) before reading this reflection.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) were one of the Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross. These words seem so common to Christians as we are constantly told to forgive like Jesus. These words seem to have just become part of the Palm Sunday, Year C Lectionary Readings for Catholics. These words just seem ancient. Sometimes, we need to look at these words in a deeper sense.
Let us step into Jesus’ shoes for a moment. On that day, we call ‘Good Friday’, it is a hot dry day and after being scourged by soldiers, crowned with thorns, forced to carry a heavy cross, stripped naked of all garments, hand and arms stretched out and nailed to a wooden cross, raised up in front of hundreds of people calling you names, making fun of you, mocking you, would you have the strength to say, “forgive them”? You may ask yourself, more than two-thousand years later, a girl who has been burned alive by a group of cruel men, how can she have that courage to say to her suffering mother, “forgive them”? Now let us look at our own lives. How often do we forgive the wrongdoings of others?
Often in our lives, there are those little incidents, no where compared to Jesus’ crucifixion or the little girl being burnt alive and we find it hard to forgive. However, people who do forgive understand that forgiveness is the only way to make peace and the only way to bring happiness to others. People who forgive have love burning in their hearts. We cannot hold grudges on people due to their wrongdoings. Lack of forgiveness and misunderstandings have lead to wars and death of so many innocent people. Yes, of course there are people that hurt us physically and mentally. But we need to understand the we too make mistakes as well. No one is perfect except for God. The most important thing is that these people learn from their mistakes and we learn to forgive them.
Jesus’ whole mission is about love and with love accompanies forgiveness. This is evident not only through Luke 23:34, but also through other quotes from other gospels:
- “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Mt 6:14)
- “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (Mk 11:25)
- “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:21-22)
- The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32)
These were just only a few sample quotes from the Gospels about forgiveness. There are many more not listed here. However, this just comes to show that Jesus really wants us to “forgive those who trespass against us.” (Mt 6:12).
We need to learn to be merciful people, willing to forgive others like Jesus especially during this Jubilee of Mercy.