The story of forgiveness

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As we start today the Holy Week I cannot not see the intimate connection between forgiveness and the Paschal Mystery. Jesus suffered, was slain and rose from the dead forgiving his enemies!

How can we miss that powerful episode which Luke portrays so well in his Gospel! In chapter 23 of his passion account he recounts: And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:33-35).

The context of the words Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34), is dramatic. Starting, of course, from the place itself: The Skull. The latter shows that Jesus was treated like any other criminal. Even though he was innocent. According to the Romans, this spot outside the gates of the city was a place where they crucified criminals as a sign to those who would visit the city that they did not tolerate criminality. Jesus’ death was used as a deterrent for crime. To add insult to injury, the Gospel says that they crucified him with the criminals, one on the right and one of the left (Luke 23:33). Then, after his crucifixion, they cast lots to divide his garments (Luke 23: 34), before his very eyes! Moreover the people that received so much mercy from him, stood by, watching; (Luke 23:35), instead of defending him. The rulers kept ridiculing him by saying: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” (Luke 23:35).

And Jesus, amid that shame, terror, insults, indifference, and ridicule, his answer was simply that of asking the Father to forgive them because they surely did not know what they were doing. The Church Fathers have some interesting comments to make on Jesus’ forgiveness. St. John Chrysostom says: “Because the Lord had said, Pray for them that persecute you, this likewise He did, when He ascended the cross, as it follows, Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them, not that He was not able Himself to pardon them, but that He might teach us to pray for our persecutors, not only in word, but in deed also”. St Jerome comments: “I can return bite for bite, if I like; when hurt myself, I can fix my teeth in my opponent. I too have had a liberal education. . . . But I prefer to be a disciple of Him who says, ‘I gave my back to the smiters… I hid not my face from shame and spitting.’ When He was reviled He reviled not again. After the buffeting, the cross, the scourge, the blasphemies, at the very last He prayed for His crucifiers, saying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ I, too, pardon the error of a brother.” And, St Irenaeus of Lyons reflects: “And from this fact, that He exclaimed upon the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,’ the long-suffering, patience, compassion, and goodness of Christ are exhibited, since He both suffered, and did Himself exculpate those who had maltreated Him”.

And what about me and you? Are we ready to forgive and exculpate those who harm us? Are we ready to show them Christ’s compassion, goodness and patience? Even if it means that we suffer in doing that? Do we really consider them as our brothers and sisters? In actual fact, how much are we ready to pray for our persecutors in word and deed?

If, as Pope Francis said in his April 10 catechesis, “we are debtors, … because we have received so much in this life: existence, a father and a mother, friendship, the wonders of Creation . . . because, even if we succeed in loving, none of us is able to do so with his/her own strength… [save] with God’s grace,… we love first of all because we have been loved; we forgive because we have been forgiven,” why not forgiving those who have hurt us?

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