Friday, April 3, 2015

"Father, forgive them"

For a number of years I was privileged to preach all or some of Jesus' Seven Last Words as He hung on the Cross at The Cathedral of the Madeleine. We ceased this devotion after Good Friday 2013 for reasons I do not know. Nonetheless, below is my first ever reflection on our Lord's Seven Last Words, spoken as He hung on the Cross:


Reading: Luke 23:34

“Father, forgive them” is the first of the seven last words of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because forgiveness is where it all begins and is what is necessary for God’s purpose to be accomplished. 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 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.

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 the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 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 many Christians did for quite a few centuries, contributed to one of the worst horrors imaginable, the most systematic genocide of the bloody twentieth century, the Sho'ah. In Christ, who is God’s covenant, the new and everlasting covenant is extended to all without prejudice. We, as sharers in this covenant, are called to reconcile a humanity that all too readily divides on the basis of race.

In their eyes they were putting to death a rebel, a blasphemer, a trouble-making, but (to borrow Fr John Meier’s description) a marginal Jew. So, Jesus also suffers on behalf of the poor and marginalized, like the two thieves, like the people of Darfur, Iraq, North Korea, and those dumped onto the streets and abandoned in cities throughout the world.

Besides, 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, which now, in and through the Eucharist, takes the form of the Church. Reconciliation, like the Eucharist, is a sacrament precisely because it is not confined to those times and places in which we formally and ritually celebrate it. Of necessity it extends beyond the confessional. Reconciliation is a way of life, a mode of being, for any disciple of Jesus Christ.

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