prayer and forgiveness transforming mission

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34

Luke has Jesus praying at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern has been to go to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. Jesus did this to keep his focus upon what God has called and commissioned him to do.

He prays seeking direction when he is tempted to follow the crowd, “Do I go with the crowd or do I go to the cross?” He prays when Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. And, he prays when his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him.

Now, in Luke 24, while he is on the cross, Jesus prays.

What does prayer have to do with it? To answer that question, we need some background on the cross.

The Shape of the Cross

1. On most of our altars and hanging in our sanctuaries is a cross, the Latin Cross. The truth is we really do not know the shape of the cross.

Every tradition has its own cross. The Greek cross looks like a plus sign, two bars the same length. St. Anthony’s Cross looks like a T, a cross piece is on top a vertical stake. The Cross of Andrew is an X, the first letter of Christ in the Greek alphabet. Justin Martyr’s cross is an X shaped cross for Crucifixion. The cross could have been on an impaling stick or a stake in the ground.

We don’t know how Jesus was crucified. But because we do not know does not mean we should abandon it.

2. What is it in scripture? In verse 33, they have come to the place of the skull. In the Greek, the word is “cranium”. In the Aramaic, the word is “Golgotha”. In the Latin, the word is “Calavera”. Each is a different name for the same thing. In Luke, it is the place of the skull.

3. For the Romans, Caesar was Lord. The government was central. To speak or act against Rome was considered heresy. Crucifixion was used to warn citizens what would happen to them if they were disloyal to Rome. People were sacrificed on crosses to warn others what would happen to them when they committed heresy.

What do we know?

What we know is the crucifixion was a public execution. There is evidence that as many as 800 crosses would line the road like power poles. Persons, mostly men who attempted to overthrow Rome, were impaled on stakes or nailed to crosses. It created fear in the people who passed by. It was a scene like this that Jesus was crucified publicly between two criminals.

So, in Luke 24:34, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This prayer was in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He was praying for forgiveness for those who were violating him because they did not know what they are doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” They have killed the Lord of glory in ignorance.

Forgiveness and Ignorance

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our only hope is “Father, forgive them…”

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.”

That is intentional ignorance.

The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, their only words where insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance.

Could that work for us?

Father, forgive us

When we are filled with prejudice and we target and kill innocent people because of the color of their skin…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we use our power or position as harassment, especially as sexual harassment…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When we know that women are paid less for the same work, not promoted with the same skills, overlooked for being different…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When children and adults, bystanders, are killed by gun violence in schools, in parks, in clubs, in churches…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When medications are not available or too expensive because our health care is inadequate…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

When any one of us remains silent when we know we should speak up and out…

“Father, forgive us, we are being intentionally ignorant.”

Can we be forgiven for our ignorance?

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

These words were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry.

Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers.

Jesus prayed.

Prayer and Forgiveness

What does prayer have to do with it?

“They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his lift. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 24:32-34

O Jesus, forgive us, our only hope is you.

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