THE FIRST WORD:
Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34)
Here we are at Golgotha, on Calvary, on Good Friday, as the Son of God, Jesus Christ, dies, hanging on a tree. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, has never left His Father’s side, and will not begin to do so now. We are in his presence, but because we are confused, bewildered, uncertain over why He must die, He seems more distant than ever. He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts x. 38) He is unjustly accused, and yet we remember that He said that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders….(St. Luke ix. 22) His body writhes and flails in response to the unmerited torture and pain, Nevertheless He cleaves to His Father, who has a few more words for Jesus to utter before He dies and gives His life a ransom for many. (St. Matthew xx. 28)
He never spoke without the Father’s inspiration while living, and He will not begin to do so even while dying. Through the unimaginable pain and suffering, especially that of His soul and spirit, veiled and hidden from man’s experience, He continues to hear the Father. He listens in the midst of the darkness and from His heart emerges true light. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (St. John i. 4) His Father bids Him pray for others. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) Praying for others means hoping for their salvation and deliverance. Praying for those who are torturing and killing you reveals incandescent light and perfect love. He taught us all how to pray: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. (St. Matthew vi. 12) He insisted also that if we do not forgive others their trespasses against us, neither will our Heavenly Father forgive us our trespasses against Him. (St. Matthew vi. 15) Love ye your enemies, and do good…Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you… .(St. Luke vi. 35-38) And so even now, Jesus asks for the forgiveness of His enemies. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34)
But the death of Jesus seems not only wrong and unnecessary but also absolutely unforgiveable. How can this sin be forgivable? We remember His words, Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come, (St. Matthew xii. 32) O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? (St. Luke xxiv. 26) Those who kill the Son of God ignorantly can be forgiven; those who fail to hope in the Holy Ghost cannot.
So Jesus asks forgiveness for those who know not what they do. (Ibid) He begs pardon and mercy for those who have secured His death because they did it out of ignorance. He is petitioning forgiveness for the Romans, the Jewish Sanhedrin, and those who will facilitate His suffering and death. There is a sense in which this forgiveness extends to all who don’t realize that fallen man sins and that sin is a determination to kill God’s Word and will in human life. When most men sin they don’t realize what they are doing or that they are even sinning. They think that are pursuing and perfecting the good, as they know it. And so they spend their lives unwittingly judging God’s Word to be guilty and then proceeding to kill it. In general then, most men –and especially the contemporary variety, are so possessed of an adolescent mindset that the thought of what Jesus said and did is positively disruptive, distracting, and destructive to the pursuit of the selfish self’s happiness and comfort. In fact fallen man judges what Jesus has done to be evil and worthy of death. Why? He confronts and challenges the very roots and causes of earthly man’s quest for happiness and perfection. He tells us that truth is not relative absolutely nor is it relative in relation to our particular narcissistic pursuits. He tells us that truth what God the Father reveals through His Word and to the world through His Holy Spirit. So because men think that any challenge to the comfortable mantra Truth is Relative is evil, they kill it ignorantly. And He forgives them.
Jesus teaches us that we must forgive our enemies because only then shall we not be sinning against hope that the Holy Ghost will save all men. Evil has no power. He is about to reveal this to the world in His immanent death, burial, and resurrection. And if it can secure no lasting claim from the Son of God, it shouldn’t have any power over us either. Even if evil wills and secures man’s torture, suffering, and death, it has only as much power as man gives to it. But, you protest, what if they enslave, torture, maim, brutalize, and kill innocent people –usually our relatives and friends…for we don’t care so much for the others? Jesus says a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (St. Matthew x. 36-38) So we should agree with our adversary quickly while we are in the way with him! (St. Matthew v. 25) And what He wants to teach us is that Satan and his vices must never, ever sever us from the victory of good over evil that He is accomplishing for us. If we love anyone or anything more than God’s Wisdom and Love made flesh in Jesus Christ, then we are His enemies. If we do not forgive our enemies, we are His enemies. He that is not with me is against me. (St. Matthew xii. 30)
Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (Ibid) We have been the enemies of Jesus Christ who is the forgiveness of sins. We have not embraced this principle in our lives. We know this. We cannot claim ignorance. If we know Him, we had better repent of acting as if we didn’t. Pilate, Herod, Caiphas, and Annas stand a better chance of reaching the Kingdom than those who sin knowingly. Today let us wake up to the truth of our unfaithfulness. Let us forgive all our enemies. As we gaze on the Cross, in the words of Father Neuhaus, Let us fix our eyes on the dying derelict who is the Lord of Life. Let us look at the One who is everything that we are and everything that we are not, the One who is true man and true God. Let us love God more than love of our friends or the hatred of our enemies. Let us look upon Jesus Christ and pray that we shall cease to be His enemies because we do know better. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons