‘They do not know what they are doing’ – the forgiving God
Hymn – to sing or read
Amazing love, O what sacrifice
The Son of God, giv’n for me
My debt he pays, and my death he dies,
that I might live,
that time I live. (chorus from ‘My Lord, what love is this?)
‘Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ Lk 23.32-38
‘Forgive’ … we somehow expect that word to appear here. Even if this reveals we know this story too well and it has lost its capacity to shock.
But it is the second part of the sentence that sticks – ‘they do not know what they are doing’ ….
It is one thing to be forgiven for what you know you have done wrong – even if there is pride to swallow and shame to endure. But to be told we did not even know what we were doing …! Hang on a minute!
A feature of our culture is its need to blame – someone must be responsible. It must be someone’s fault. When shocking stories emerge of the abuse of children, tax avoidance, air disaster or a global pandemic … we need to know whose fault it is. It must be someone’s. We need someone to blame.
It is the deadliest diagnosis from the cross – ‘they do not know what they are doing’.
Who don’t exactly?
Crowds? – mocking. Carnival. Media driven.
Soldiers? – only following orders
Pilate? – political expediency. Ineffectual – did not know what to do.
Religious leaders? – they thought they knew exactly what they were doing.
And you and I? What don’t we know?
Jesus’s favourite metaphor for the human condition is blindness.
We just don’t see.
(there are sensitivities to this metaphorical language of course. And in the recorded encounters with Jesus the physically blind often ‘saw’ him the most clearly)
On one occasion his religious hearers challenged him
‘Are you saying we are blind?’
Jesus replied – ‘you are not guilty because you are blind
You are guilty because you say you can see. Jn 9.41
If we are blind in this sense, then even our best intentions can be dangerous.
We cannot see our consequences; our effect.
If we come to cross in this place of not knowing, of unseeing, we should not expect the cross to make sense.
The cross is there precisely for all that is senseless, unaware, our unseeing and our wild, deadly assumptions about what we think we know.
Where do you connect with these thoughts?
You might pause and keep silence for a few moments.
Father of Jesus,
For the judgments we make that are simply prejudices.
For the times we think we are right but we are actually wrong.
For the times we claim to see clearly but are blind.
we do not know what we are doing.
A space to add your own prayers
We adore you O Christ and we bless you
For by your Holy Cross
You have redeemed the world.