Father, Forgive Them

Jesus’ final words on the cross expressed the healing power of Love and set the standard for all of us.

By Amy Sparkman

Categories: Easter (Passion Week), Family, Guidance, Love

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). The selflessness and depth of love flowing from Jesus’ words uttered on the cross are guideposts for any parent. How many times a day might we say these words as we watch and nurture our children’s progress? At times, the number can feel as large as all the grains of sand on an endless stretch of beach. But, with God, we need never fear that we will run out of forgiveness or face a time when we can’t forgive.

Growing and learning is the business of childhood. It’s the persistent emerging of individual identity – of the innate qualities each of us has from the beginning. “…God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them…And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:27, 31). This is every man’s heredity—this is every child’s DNA.

And that’s where forgiveness begins—every time, without exception.

We teach, we guide, we mentor, we encourage, we draw out our children. We comfort and care for them. We strive to mold and shape these small beings into what we want for them, into what we hope they will be—to enable them to fulfill their unique potential. Yet, they often fall short of our hopes and expectations. We might even wonder how they could act the way they do or say the things they say with us as their parents! For all our effort and well-intentioned parental influence, they flop, even fail.

Let’s go back to Jesus for a heart-wrenching example in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus goes to the garden to quiet his quaking heart – to reconcile himself to his impending crucifixion. He knows it must happen – it’s been prophesied: the Son of God has a purpose to fulfill. His disciples have a purpose, too. And Jesus has raised them up as if he was their parent and they were his children. Yet, in his hour of greatest human need, they fail him. They fall asleep on the job—not once, but three times. Jesus wakes them and chastises them each time, and they try again. But they cannot keep their eyes open, they cannot grasp the importance of the moment, they cannot be more than who they are right then. They don’t have a full understanding of God or of the significance of this event to be able to express the inner strength, the spiritual stamina, Jesus was requesting. They were mere children in a very grown-up scenario. Jesus perceived their naivete. At the same time, he knew their heritage.

And that’s how he could forgive them for “they know not what they do.” Hours later, he voiced these words on the cross.

In his most challenging moment, Jesus forgave everyone – his betrayer, his enemies, his disciples, and all the people wailing over him – for not recognizing him as the eternal Christ, as the highest example on earth of the man God created, and of the healing power of Love. Jesus’ final words expressed that Love and set the standard for all of us.

Who doesn’t experience crucifying moments!? We all feel like we’ve been pierced at times, even to the core on occasion. And forgiveness is not always the first thought that comes to mind in the heat of the moment. But since forgiveness is grounded in Love, since the act of forgiving is Love reflecting love, we can awake from our own sleepy state and see our children – our fellowmen – the way Jesus did, the way God does. And we will instantly forgive them.

My son’s first piano recital – at the age of 5 – was a simple affair in his piano teacher’s living room one sunny afternoon with three other students and their mothers. My son was very happy to be the last to perform. At the last minute, the first performer called in sick and the piano teacher turned to my son and announced to the group that he would go first instead of last. I knew this was not a good idea, but I urged him to do as he was told, and assured him that he could do it, that he knew his songs by heart, that it wouldn’t be scary, that this wasn’t hard! He dragged his feet up to the piano and slowly slid onto the bench. He started to play…and hit a wrong note. Instantly, he turned to me, eyes glaring, and burst out loudly, “I hate you, Mommy!” As his words pierced my heart, I gently replied, “It’s okay. Just start again.” He took a deep breath, turned back to the keys and played his songs perfectly. By the end of the short recital, my son’s smile beamed with new confidence and gratitude flooded through me. There was nothing more to say about his outburst or my hurt feelings – the moment was completely forgotten.

Why make a big deal about forgiveness? Because it washes away so many devilish feelings that stunt our progress and taint our relationships. What good is holding a grudge? Who benefits from our stony silence or simmering anger? No one.

Here’s one last question to consider: Does forgiveness make us push-over parents? Not if we’ve let an offense dissolve and evaporate. Not if we’re beholding, cherishing, loving our children’s true God-given natures and holding them accountable for their inappropriate actions or words. We should not condone bad behavior or a poor attitude. Forgiveness happens when we separate the behavior or the attitude, the backtalk or the tone, from the individual so that we can see God’s creation. Just as Jesus did.