Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Seven Last Words- First Word “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”

The need to forgive is made more evident everyday. I hope this homily serves as a reminder as to why, at least for those who bear Christ's name, forgiveness is so very crucial. Indeed, so many horrendous acts are committed by people who do not know what they are doing. Yes, they know they are committing murder and causing mayhem, acting out to avenge perceived, or even real wrongs, none of which come anywhere close to justifying their violent response, but they certainly lack an awareness of the full impact and all the implications their actions will have in the lives of their victims, their victims' families, their own families, etc. In any case, as Christians, we forgive because we have been forgiven. I do not see Jesus putting limits on what or how many times to forgive in his teaching on the subject. On the contrary, he stresses the need to forgive "seventy times seven", he forgives the people who torture and kill him, he forgives the guilty thief hanging next to him. In imitation of our Lord, St. Stephen, one of the original seven deacons, forgives those who are stoning him to death for his preaching about Jesus Christ.

Good Friday
The Cathedral of the Madeleine
Reading: Luke 23,34

"Father, forgive them" is the first of the seven last words of our Lord Jesus Christ as he hung upon the Cross. Why? Because forgiveness is where it all begins and is what is necessary for God’s purpose to be accomplished, for Christ’s work to be finished. Jesus willingly suffers and endures the humiliation, the degradation, the pain and the anguish that sin, our sin, merits. In his agonies are gathered up and recapitulated all the suffering that ever was and all that ever will be.

It would defeat the purpose of what God was doing in Christ for the Lord to endure the miseries of his passion and not, even while enduring them, forgive those at whose hands he suffered. It is only by forgiving that the cycle of violence, the very cycle in which Christ is not caught up, but to which he willingly submits himself for our sake, is broken and, fulfilling his Messianic mission, sets humanity free. In Christ, we see that forgiveness is the necessary condition of reconciliation and liberation.

It is clear that those inflicting torture on Christ, those crying out for his death, and those carrying out Pilate’s sentence, did not know what they were doing. In other words, they did not know they were torturing and killing Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Therefore, the first reconciliation we must bring about on the basis of our Lord’s first word is with the Jews, the people through whom God, according to his inscrutable wisdom, first entered into covenant and through whom, in Christ, his promise of salvation is extended to all humanity. Therefore, we must reject any anti-Jewish charge of deicide. Surely, believing such a charge, which Christians did for many centuries, contributed to one of the worst horrors imaginable, the most systematic genocide of the bloody twentieth century. Christ is God’s new and everlasting covenant extended to all without prejudice. We, as sharers in this covenant through our Baptism, are called to reconcile a humanity that all too readily divides on the bases of race, language, tribe, religion. Nothing is more contrary to what God is accomplishing in Christ than such divisions.

In the eyes of those who caused the Lord’s suffering, they were putting to death a rebel, a blasphemer, a trouble-making, but marginal Jew. So, Jesus also suffers on behalf of the poor and marginalized, like thieves, like the victims of racism, sexism, immigrants, the people of Darfur, Iraq, North Korea, and those dumped onto the streets and abandoned in cities throughout the world, even in the United States.

Jesus' pleading to his eternal Father to forgive those torturing him and putting him to death cannot be anything other than efficacious. If we believe that Jesus’ pleadings for forgiveness are ever ignored by the Father, then our own forgiveness and, hence, our very salvation is called into question.

God still brings about forgiveness and reconciliation through the Body of His Son, who now, in and through the Eucharist, takes the form of the Church. Reconciliation, like Eucharist, is sacramental precisely because it is not confined to those times and places in which we formally and ritually celebrate it. Wherever forgiveness brings about reconciliation, there is Christ.

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