Countless books, essays, and sermons have been written on the subject of the seven last words of Christ, spoken from the cross. People are interested in a person’s last words before dying; we want to know what others are thinking or feeling right before they pass over into the next…whatever “the next” looks like. Luke 23:34 contains the first of Jesus’ last words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” We hear these words and we want to know what Jesus was thinking when he said them; we want to know what he really means. At first glance we assume that he is talking about the people who just nailed him to a cross and left him to die. These are the ones Jesus asks God to forgive because they do not realize who they have just condemned. That is not a bad analysis of the text and it certainly fits with our image of a Jesus who seeks mercy for all. It also represents only one view of this passage and looks at the text through a very narrow opening. I wonder if we cannot learn more by stepping back and looking at these words through a wider window.
For us the concept of forgiveness calls first for the offender to ask for it. When we are at odds with another person, we expect an apology and we expect the other to ask for our forgiveness. Jesus does not wait for anyone to say they are sorry; he does not expect anyone to acknowledge their mistake in condemning him to death; yet he asks God to forgive anyway. We want to limit his words to those people who crucified him because it is too uncomfortable for us to think that he might actually be speaking to us and our reluctance to forgive as we have been forgiven.
A second point to consider is that Jesus says we do not know what we are doing. A wider view of these words leads us to understand that Jesus offers God’s forgiveness because we do not know sin as sin. It is not simply that the people putting him to death do not know what they have done, it is also that all of us do things every day without paying any attention to the fact that what we are doing is wrong, is sinful, is in need of God’s forgiveness. We have become so numb to the blurred lines between right and wrong that we no longer recognize our own sin and our own need for God’s forgiveness. Father, please forgive us all.