First Word of the Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
-Luke 23:34

Father, forgive them….

Forgive—really? This is Jesus’ first word? I could think of many other words that he might and should have uttered rather than this. Yet, his first word is so telling and is so who he is. Jesus made numerous references to forgiveness in his ministry, including his word to Peter that one should forgive 70 times 70.  And throughout Jesus’ ministry, aims to stay below the radar, not calling attention to himself and never asking for anything for himself.  So, these words on the cross, though they certainly wouldn’t be mine, show Jesus at his truest self…forgiving those who might not even acknowledge that they have done something wrong.

Who are the others that he puts first? Them who? The crowd that shouted “Crucify him”? The soldiers who cast lots for his clothing? Pilate, the one who crucified Jesus? The ones who are next to him on the cross? Could it be all of them? Might it be us?

Many throughout history surely think so. Martin Luther describes our guilt and participation in the crucifixion by saying that  “We carry the very nails in our pockets.” Rembrandt being so moved by his role in the crucifixion painted his own face as the one who crucified Jesus.

I love the old spiritual, “Were You There?” It is a song that I look forward to singing every Good Friday, but it isn’t one that tells much about the story. It is, however, a song that gets you feeling and experiencing the story of the crucifixion. It is a song that acknowledges that while we were not there in crowd watching the details unfold, we were in fact there, What happened on the cross that day, happened because us and for each us.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

It does make me tremble to think that Jesus put me first that he used the first of his words to ask God to forgive us. Even from there on the cross, he hadn’t lost hope in humanity.
What in these first words makes you tremble?

“Forgiveness and reconciliation are not cheap, they are costly. Forgiveness is not to condone or minimize the awfulness of an atrocity or wrong. It is to recognize its ghastliness but to choose to acknowledge the essential humanity of the perpetrator and to give that perpetrator the possibility of making a new beginning. Forgiveness is an act of much hope and not despair. It is to hope in the essential goodness of people and to have faith in their potential to change. It is to bet on that possibility. Forgiveness, is not opposed to justice, especially if it is not punitive justice, but restorative justice, justice that does not seek primarily to punish the perpetrator, to hit out, but looks to heal a breach, to restore a social equilibrium that the atrocity or misdeed has disturbed. Ultimately there is no future without forgiveness.” – Desmond Tutu

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2 thoughts on “First Word of the Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross

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