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. (Luke 23:32-34)
This is one of the most powerful passages in the whole Bible. Jesus, as he is being put to death as a criminal among criminal, asks the one whom he calls ‘Father’ to forgive the very people who are putting him to death. And one has to think that Jesus meant also to plead his Father’s forgiveness for all those who have conspired in his death, wittingly and unwittingly—everyone from Judas to Caiaphas to Pilate to Peter. This is extraordinary. I said earlier that I didn’t think Jesus ever acted so divinely as during his trial. I take that back. Jesus never acted so divinely as at this moment, when he forgives those who crucify him. This is what God is like: when put on trial, no defense; when executed, extending forgiveness.
Let us pray: Almighty God, through the incarnate Word you have caused us to be born anew of an imperishable and eternal seed: Look with compassion upon those who are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant that they may be built as living stones into a spiritual temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Learn: How can we possibly bear such forgiveness as Jesus calls us to? Listen again to my teacher, Miroslav Volf, as he speaks about forgiveness in this interview. For more, see his incredibly moving book The End of Memory, in which he speaks candidly about his own struggle to forgive those who tortured him during the communist regime in the former Yugoslavia.