Thursday, July 29

Father Forgive Them

Photo credit: Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts

Lenten Reflection:

So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.

Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews." Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that he said, 'I am the King of the Jews'." Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."

-John 19:16-22

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”                                        

Pater, dimitte illis, quia nesciunt, quid faciunt.

34ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔλεγεν· πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν.

-Luke 23:34



Random thought:  Never noticed before that King of the Jews was in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek!

In the Greek, the word for forgive here is ἄφες.  It actually does mean forgive.  However, the interesting thing is the verb tense.  We have past, present, and future verbs.  I forgave, I forgive, I will forgive.  The past tense can called aorist by those grammarians who care about such things.  Well, in Greek, there is such a thing as an aorist imperative.  An imperative is a command.  Go!  Teach!  Forgive!  This word, ἄφες, is in the form of an aorist imperative.  Well, that just made my head hurt.  It turns out, one of the many, many quirks of Greek is that an aorist imperative means what they call “punctilliar action.”  Action that is just beginning but not complete.  Jesus is asking God to begin the action of forgiveness.  The work of forgiving is not a completed action. It is something that is just begun.  What does that do to our understanding of forgiveness?  To hold the idea that forgiving is a continuous action?  That it is something we must continue to do?  Even God has to continue to forgive? 

That is something to tuck away and think about.

It is harder to grasp this idea of “they know not what they do.”  Here, it is clear that Jesus is saying that they do not realize that they are killing the messiah.  They don’t know.  This is an incredibly gracious stance from someone in the midst of crucifixion.  Jesus is giving humanity the benefit-of-the-doubt.  I am afraid that I would not be so gracious in the midst of my suffering.  What would it mean to our life if we started from a stance of “not knowing” rather than a stance of accusation?

When I was a chaplain in the detention center, my heart often raged at the stories the youth would tell me.  One time, I was sitting with a youth and we were playing cards.  I asked him what he wanted to do when he got out…where did he want to go.  He told me that he was going to live with his mother.  I asked again, “where do you want to go?”  He then told me that he wanted to go home to a normal family with normal parents.  His mother, was a crack addict.  Living with her, he was certain he would end up doing drugs again and coming back.  After all, when your mom asks you to do drugs with her, what can you do?  What about his dad?  Worse.  He runs drugs from Mexico and is a leader in the gang.  It is not safe to be with his father. 

For a moment, I took in all of this confessed to me during a casual game of cards.  I continued playing and chatting pretending everything was normal.  In the meantime, my internal dialogue was reeling with anger, sadness, and rage.

  • what hope does this young man have?
  • statistically, with a dad in and out of prison, a dad doing drugs, a dad in a gang, a mother doing drugs, a mother in and out of jail, a poor education, and a justice system that could care less about doing justice…this young man will be dead or in prison by the time he is 40.
  • what hope is there?
  • how can his parents abandon this young man in all the ways that are important?
  • how can we, society, sit by and let children be thrown away?
  • how can God create a system where there is hopelessness?

Needless to say, I had a few emotions and thoughts to work through that evening.  It was like a poison in my system.  Thank God for contemplative practices.  I meditated and cried and typed and came to a new understanding of hope and forgiveness.

Our hope is coming and it is prefigured in this gracious and extravagant request to begin to forgive.

Just as, this young man’s parents did not know, as society does not know, the soldiers gambling over Jesus’ clothes did not know, the civic and religious leaders that called for Jesus’ crucifixion, did not know.  In fact, we rarely can know the full and complete consequences of our choices.  We simply do not know.  How different would our lives be if we assume an unknowing rather than a malevolence?  If we start from grace rather than accusation?  If we truly rely on Jesus as our guide?

34ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔλεγεν· πάτερ, ἄφες αὐτοῖς, οὐ γὰρ οἴδασιν τί ποιοῦσιν.

“then Jesus said, Father start forgiving them, for they do not know what they do.”

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