Note: The Lectio Divina based devotion below follows a Lenten journey called “By His Side.” The order for daily scriptures throughout Lent comes from “Praying with Passion,” by Ken Taylor. The daily scriptures chronologically follow the passion of Christ from the Last Supper to the crucifixion. I focus on a particular word or phrase from the day’s reading and meditate on what the passage says about Christ, what it says about human nature, what it says about our relationship with Christ and others, and what I sense God is calling me to do, refrain from doing, or be mindful of as I seek to follow Christ “by his side.”
Lectio: Luke 23:34 (NRSV) – Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Contemplation: “Forgive them.”
Meditation: Forgiveness is a dominant theme in the gospel of Luke. To compare, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John mention forgiveness eleven, nine, and one time, respectively. Luke, by comparison, speaks of forgiveness seventeen times. God is the one that takes the initiative to forgive in the gospel of Luke. Jesus acts on earth to forgive sins with God’s authority. He tells his disciples to forgive the trespasses others commit against them as God forgave them. He also taught his disciples this: “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”
The character and quality of the forgiveness Christ offers are redemptive and restorative, opening the possibility for an offender to stop offending and change for the better. It goes far beyond releasing a person or a people that cause injury and suffering from one’s power, concern, or attention. The forgiveness Christ offers does not erase a fault, but rather his forgiveness reacts to the gross misconduct against him without first desiring retribution or revenge against the offender. This quality of forgiveness allows the Holy Spirit to lead the offender to grow away from the sin condition that generated the fault toward God-centered moral, ethical, virtuous, and noble behavior. Growing apart from sin and toward Christ’s righteousness is a sign of repentance that arrives at the completion and absolute forgiveness of sin by God.
I meditate today on the spiritual maturity that true forgiveness requires so that the process of forgiveness itself comes to maturity. Mature forgiveness requires humility, patience, and confident hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to change people from sinners to saints. Mature forgiveness understands the need for space and time so that repentance can occur and the process of forgiveness completed and matured. When Jesus prays for the forgiveness of those that partook in his crucifixion, he was interceding between the people and God, pleading that God would withhold retribution and give the people time to repent of their sin and turn to him. Jesus created space and time for the process of forgiveness to mature. Its when we get to Luke’s second book, the book of Acts, that we see the process of forgiveness mature.
When Peter preached at the festival of Pentecost in Jerusalem, 50 days after the crucifixion, he charges his fellow Israelites of not knowing what they were doing when they acceded to the crucifixion and killing of Jesus (Acts 2). He then proclaims that God raised Jesus from the dead and made him Lord and Messiah. When they heard Peter’s charges and proclamation in the power of the Holy Spirit, they were cut to the heart and asked what they should do. Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was praying from the cross for the forgiveness of the people that did not know what they were doing, he was opening up space and time for the Holy Spirit to bring about repentance and change in their lives. On that Good Friday two thousand years ago, his intercessory prayer opened up space and time for our repentance and forgiveness long before we came through those times in our lives when we did not know what we were doing. The space and time Jesus opened on Good Friday when he offered forgiveness allowed the Holy Spirit to lead us to repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and the invitation to partake in costly discipleship that is met by God’s abundant grace.
Prayer: I pray for the grace to offer mature Christ-like forgiveness that creates space and time for the Holy Spirit to work for the transformation of people and the world.