One time, Jesus was invited to have a meal at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. Jesus accepted the invitation even though he knew that Simon was more critic than friend, and that his every action and word would be monitored closely. While there, a woman boldly entered Simon’s house and came to Jesus. The woman was a person of very bad reputation, maybe a prostitute. Some think it might have been Mary Magdalene. It was a very emotional time for this woman. She had brought some very expensive, perfumed lotion in a priceless alabaster jar, a family heirloom and treasure. She intended to honor Jesus by anointing him with this lotion. She was surprised, though, to find that Jesus’ feet were dirty. Simon, the host, had not even provided clean water and a towel for his guest to wash and dry his sandaled feet. The woman was unprepared for this, but her deep emotion came to her rescue, for her eyes filled with tears at this shabby treatment of her Master combined with her great love for her. Her tears dropped on his feet, and she used her long hair as a towel to dry them. Then she rubbed on her precious lotion. Everyone watching this was scandalized. They were offended by the silent rebuke of the ungracious host. They were shocked that a religious teacher like Jesus would let this prostitute even touch him.
Then Jesus did a most audacious thing. He chastised Simon for his lack of hospitality. He saw far beyond the woman’s sordid reputation and into her heart. He knew that she was deeply ashamed of her sin, that she was reaching out to God through Jesus. And he said, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
And so it went throughout his ministry. Jesus prodded his disciples and the crowds to be forgiving. He taught: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)
The word translated “forgive” or “forgiveness” is not indicative of a long process. Its base meaning is “release.” In classical Greek, this word was used for the act of “releasing an arrow.” Think of that! When an arrow is released, it is gone! Vamoose! Wiedersehen! Zip! Zoom! Now you see it, now you don’t! Gone and quickly far away. Forgiveness does not happen by accident or casually. It is a conscience decision. It goes against our natural instincts. We want to hold onto grudges, to enjoy playing the victim.
The second statement of Jesus from the cross is:
Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.
There are two parts to this that strike home with me.
First, Jesus’ defense of his executioners. Even in the midst of monumental suffering, Jesus thinks of others. He is concerned for the souls of the hardened men who have brutalized him and nailed him to a cross. He cares about the souls of the crowd who mock him and makes sport of his dying. He even has compassion on the ruthless leaders, Caiaphas and his cronies, who orchestrated his arrest and condemnation. He pleads their case before God, saying that they acted in ignorance.
Second, Jesus’ intercession for his executioners. Jesus speaks to his Father, to God on his throne, pleading for the forgiveness of his tormenters. They need to be forgiven, for what they are doing is unthinkable, almost unspeakable. To kill an innocent man was bad. When that man happens to be the promised Messiah, the very Son of God, there are no words left to express the horror of the acts.
Is there a connection here between forgiving others and our forgiveness? I think so. Jesus was dying so that our sins could be forgiven, so that the sins of his executioners could be forgiven, so that the sins of Caiaphas and Pilate might be forgiven. Jesus was able to plead for their forgiveness because he had already forgiven them. He could not be the instrument of our forgiveness if he lacked forgiveness in his own heart! If our sins were to be forgiven, Jesus had to be ready and willing to forgive even the most heinous of criminals. Those callous, self-serving, hypocritical murderers! I forgive you! I ask that God forgive you!
When we see the pitiful condition of Jesus on the cross, maybe we can begin to understand why we, too, must forgive. You see, forgiveness isn’t about letting someone off the hook. It’s not about forgetting and drifting into Christian senility. We need to be forgiven. We want to be forgiven. And we will never grasp this until we practice forgiveness ourselves. Forgiveness is as much about the forgiver as it is about the forgiven. We can never be whole until we are forgiven and forgiving. This is the great lesson of Jesus.
To forgive is to set a person free
and discover that the person was you.
Forgiving Father, we look to Jesus just now. On the cross, his pain was beyond our understanding. He had been betrayed by those he loved. He had been beaten by mocking soldiers. He had nails pounded through his hands and feet. He had a crown of thorns shoved into his head. He didn’t deserve any of it. But he was not bitter. In his pain, he loved and he forgave. May you do a work of grace in our hearts, and may a powerful spirit of forgiveness consume us. We pray in Jesus’name, AMEN.
Nebraska Christian College