“And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Have you ever been deserted by everyone – all your friends? Alone, lonely. Perhaps something worse – have you ever been betrayed by a friend? How did you respond? Self-pity? Bitterness? That’s saying “Yes” to self, affirming your own self. How did Jesus respond? “Follow me,” he said, “do it the way I do it.” On the cross, in a physical, spiritual agony, what were his thoughts of himself? Most of what he said was in compassion for others. For the soldiers, he sought clemency. For his mother, provision and care. For the thief – he sought paradise, what he least deserved. But when you’ve been deserted, betrayed, left alone where do your thoughts focus?
Have you ever been misunderstood, accused falsely? Unjustly punished? Unfairly treated? Passed over? Perhaps on the job? How did you respond? Were you offended, offering unending explanations, defensive? Did you fight back or retaliate?
How did Jesus respond to betrayal and false accusation? With quiet dignity. “Father, forgive them, they’re clueless.” He understood them. Not so preoccupied with their misunderstanding of him. And how they did misunderstand! Greatest blunder of the ages, trying to kill God! Actually they had no sense of guilt. They were just obeying orders. And the Jews – they were defending their God. That’s why religious wars are so intractable. Each is on God’s side, defending the truth. Or church division, not like the world where the power struggle is overt, acknowledged. We fight for the truth, we’re on God’s side. We can’t back down. It’s very hard to hear the quiet voice, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Have you ever been mocked, ridiculed, put down? Have your rights been violated? Didn’t get what you deserved? Perhaps from your wife or your own children? How did you respond? Burn with resentment? Affirm your selfhood? Marshall your troops? Gather your resources to set things right? That’s saying “yes” to self.
How did Jesus respond? “This day you will be with me in Paradise”– saving the very one who moments earlier had taunted him. And he stayed on his cross. He said “no” to his own rights.
One of the greatest pains in life is betrayal. To discover a trusted friend scheming to bring you down can unleash all kinds of ungodly responses. But I who had experienced forgiveness was ready to make allowances and forgive- not holding against him what I considered evil and he considered good. But it took years to face the fact that though I wanted to forgive and forget, I didn’t want God to! Father, forgive them… I found no echo in my soul for the gracious response of Jesus on the cross or Stephen under assault. I might not seek retaliation nor even rejoice in some trouble in the life of my nemesis, but God surely will bring justice. Don’t let him off the hook, God! I realized that I wasn’t so Christlike after all and asked God to cut out the cancer that was eating away at my soul. The healing began when I noticed what the disciples asked for when Jesus told them to forgive the same offense 490 times. They didn’t ask for more love; they asked for more faith. I was doubting God’s ability to handle the situation properly. When I turned it all over to him, asking him to let my “friend” off the hook, healing began. But I hadn’t yet gotten the theology of forgiveness worked out.
Years later when a ministry for which I had great hopes was deliberately snatched from me by nefarious scheming, I was consumed with the inner struggle to forgive. I discovered my “rehabilitation” wasn’t complete. So I returned to the Book and made a thorough study of forgiveness in Scripture. Once again I found that theology does indeed rehabilitate. It taught me of grace. God’s grace, yes. But also how I also must grace my brother.