Read Luke 23:34
34 Jesus himself was saying, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Then they shared out his clothes by casting lots. (JBP)
We cannot imagine ourselves hanging naked on a cross in front of jeering spectators, enduring the torture of torn tendons and the slow suffocation that was the result of crucifixion. We certainly could not imagine ourselves offering words of forgiveness to those who were doing such unspeakable things to us.
On one level, then, this is a poignant and powerful expression of the unlimited love of Jesus for humankind. His refusal to take revenge or hit back. A triumph of good over evil and love over hatred.
But we must not overlook a couple of challenges in this text. One is that at least some of those people on Golgotha knew exactly what they were doing. Getting rid of a threat to their power. Perhaps Jesus was referring to the fact that they didn’t truly grasp that they were crucifying God himself in human expression.
And no matter what category the onlookers were in, were they automatically forgiven by these noble words of Jesus? No way. Forgiveness is always in the form of an offer. If those people around Jesus were unrepentant, stubbornly affirming they were doing the right thing, then they remain unforgiven. Jesus does not impose forgiveness on us: he offers it to us and invites us to accept it.
His words here remind us that his ultimate word to us is one of mercy and forgiveness. That is his ‘default’. He has done his bit, but for us to enjoy the blessings of forgiveness we need to do our bit and accept our need of it.