Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Devotion for today: “Father forgive them…”

Today we begin a study of the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.

Scripture for meditation: Luke 23:34
Then Jesus said, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".

Scripture for reflection: Isaiah 53:12
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.

Commentary:  "FATHER, FORGIVE THEM" By Fr. William G. Most
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." These few words from the Cross contain a great puzzle. Some modern writers have said the most distinctive feature about Jesus was that he forgave sins "without asking for any repentance": he welcomed and ate with prostitutes and publicans and if he asked for a change of heart, he did that "after" accepting them, not before. So these words from the Cross seem to be precisely a forgiveness without any repentance at all. At the very moment when his enemies were putting him to a terrible death, he excused them, asked for forgiveness for them. Further, since he had said and knew that "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30), his request could not go unanswered. So it would seem they were forgiven in the very act of sinning. Could we explain away the problem by saying that they really "did not know at all" what they were doing? Hardly. They had seen his wonders, his cures, his exorcisms. They knew he was a true prophet, at the very least, and a holy and wonderfully good man. The thing they did not know was that he was divine--but they must have known more than enough beyond that point to be guilty, hideously guilty. So, unless we wish to go along with Luther's famous dictum, "Even though you sin greatly, believe still more greatly" we will instinctively think something is wrong. And there is something wrong: even though Jesus shows a heroically kind disposition, we cannot believe that he was almost giving permission in advance to sin by not asking for repentance as a condition of forgiveness. So we must take refuge in some distinctions. It is one thing for Jesus, for the Father, to be willing to forgive; it is quite another thing for the sinner to actually take in, to receive the forgiveness. For what is forgiveness? It is not, as Luther thought, a merely forensic or external thing, declaring innocent or "acquitting" one who really is still totally corrupt inside. Rather, forgiveness means the infusion of grace into the soul, to really make it holy; forgiveness does not mean simply "acquitting" the guilty, while leaving them totally corrupt. Therefore, Jesus did ask for the grace of forgiveness. His prayer was surely heard, for at the very moment he was painfully earning the very thing he asked for. And of course, since he knew he was/is God, he himself granted what he himself asked. In brief, then, he did ask that the grace of forgiveness be "offered." That does not at all say that all to whom it was then being offered accepted it.(HOMILETIC & PASTORAL REVIEW, June 1991)

Prayer: The Act of Contrition
O My God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because of Your just punishments; but most of all, because they offended You, My God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin, Amen.

My thoughts: Is it any wonder that Christ’s offer of the grace of forgiveness is rejected today? Fr. Most makes a good point when he states that forgiveness does not mean that the guilty are just let off the hook with no expectation for their change of behavior. When Luke says that Christ forgave His persecutors, he is saying that Christ offered them the grace that goes with forgiveness. When someone forgives us, we accept it and make a point to avoid the behavior that caused the pain in the first place. Sadly, many people confess their sins with no desire to change. Many will plead ignorance of the fact that the behavior is a sin, or come up with a justification for their sinful behavior, just as the people who crucified Jesus could plead ignorance that they did not know He was divine, or justify what they did by saying Caiaphas made them do it. If we want to live with Christ in heaven, we must admit that what is wrong in our lives is a sin. We must accept the grace of God’s forgiveness, which means we must be willing to stop the sinful behavior and make repentance for what we did.  Fr. Most makes it clear that Christ is saying, “For they know not what they do” when they reject your love, your mercy and your grace of forgiveness. Let us not be the ones He is talking about.

Our prayer to God: There comes a time in our lives when we must forgive, and there is a time when we must be forgiven. Let us be clear in both cases, however, that the forgiveness given and the forgiveness received demand a change of behavior. Today is a good day to pray before the crucifix, hearing the first of Christ’s “last words” and letting them sink into our hearts. Let us give Him our heartfelt thanks for forgiveness, make a promise to avoid the near occasion of sin, and seek only what is good and right and just.

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