The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Outside the Holy City a most unholy scene rises into the morning sky. From three crosses hang three men, convicted of fomenting insurrection and violence against the empire. One man is innocent, declared so by no less than Herod, Pilate, a criminal hanging beside him, and a soldier watching this grotesque scene. That innocent man of course, is Jesus, who seeks no earthly throne or power, but subversively disrupts the world by preaching a reign of love, peace, forgiveness, and the inclusion of everyone.
From the cross, looking down on the sorry proceedings, Jesus pronounces another verdict: “They don’t know what they do.” The sentence he seeks for the guilty: “Father, forgive them.” He asks forgiveness for those who so distort God’s purposes – betrayers, deniers, spineless leaders, and corrupt religionists and politicians. But do they hear what Jesus prays? Do they want forgiveness? If you believe what you are doing is right, then why would you need forgiveness? We need to think seriously about which kingdom we serve.
One criminal joins those mocking and taunting Jesus. “A real Messiah would get us down from here.” The second criminal responds, “Man, are you serious? We are getting what we deserve. He’s done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Just for asking, Jesus promises he will be with him. For two criminals – for all watching these proceedings, for all with blood on their hands, for us who hear the story, Jesus prays for God to forgive, not destroy them.
I am going to believe we are here today, because we know we need Jesus’ words of forgiveness for ourselves. We know we are helpless to control our thoughts, actions, deeds, and many things we are not aware of. We have ignored, denied, rejected and betrayed Jesus, and God’s love, in our own unique ways. Just think about how we have. Living apart from God, we don’t know what all we do, and keep doing. The way the world is, is not the way God has made it to be. If we have been part of keeping the world as it is – then we, too, need Jesus’ unconditional pardon. But if you think he prays for someone else, you may not know what you do.
Jesus includes all of us – those who know full well what we do, and those who are clueless. A criminal, guilty and executed with Jesus – receives the grace of pardon and new life first, just by saying he’s been wrong and asking to be with Jesus. Do we know what we do? The better question – do we see what God does for us – and do we realize our need to accept it?
Jesus’ new friend didn’t realize he how wrong he was. He gets what he doesn’t deserve. He receives grace and forgiveness. We, too, get what we don’t deserve. God waits to heal and fix us with all our distortions, illusions, and brokenness. We get what we don’t deserve. And that is the greatest news you and I will ever be given. I suspect God wants us to share this gift of unconditional forgiveness and limitless love and in His power, and taking Jesus’ prayer beyond our walls to transform our distorted world.