And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. – Luke 23:34
This is the first of seven words of Christ from the cross. Word, not in the sense of a single building block for a sentence, but word in the sense of something spoken, a promise made, a conversation had and oath taken. Here, the Word that brought creation into being, speaks for her redemption—even as the Author of Life dies that life may abound.
People often collect the dying words of famous men, or remember those of dear friends. Perhaps we remember the funny ones like Oscar Wilde: “I’m finally dying beyond my means.” Or the serious words like those of Luther: “We are all beggars, this is true.” So it is that Christians have remembered and commemorated these words of Christ, the words He found important enough to utter out loud, even after having been beaten and abused, flogged and spit upon before being hoisted on a cross where it was hard to breathe much less speak—and even here in the midst of agony He speaks of forgiveness. He does not ask for it. He demands it of His Father for you, for your neighbors, coworkers, family and friends.
“They know not what they do.”
This is the reason Jesus gives for telling His father to forgive you. Can anyone count their sins? Can anyone keep a record of such things? The soldiers were just doing their job and taking their pay. They threw dice for His clothing. In their eyes they were doing nothing wrong. Perhaps they embody “The Banality of Evil.” Perhaps we all do.
I’m amazed at how many times I can read scripture and be convicted of sin. It is astonishing how many times I thought I did good only to realize later how bad I had messed things up. How often all indications for the right decision were wrong. It is horrifying to then contemplate a crucifix and think that I am guilty for putting Him there for actions I did in ignorance, much less the ones I did from the weakness of my flesh that availeth nothing.
These soldiers were pagans and gentiles. They knew nothing of the law of God. Jews would call them stones for their stupidity. God’s law brought fear of God, and with that came the beginning of wisdom. It was commonly accepted by the Jews of Jesus’ day that the law was the way to God. So, they thought they were doing the will of God when they crucified his Son. Schadenfreude ruled the day as they jeered and cast their insults. They felt justified.
Evil. It does not care if you know the law or do not. Evil will blind you to what you do. The evil that is inside of you. Knowing the law does not help you keep the law, and neither does ignorance. In either case, Jesus finds himself on the cross praying for your forgiveness and atoning for your sins. Here He shows the narrow path of love. He had no concern for His own salvation so He died for yours. It was for the love of His creation and love for you that He left the glories of heaven to for us men and our salvation even while we railed against God. So it is that even today the Son of Man intercedes before the Father on your behalf, that His oath, His word would not be broken but fulfilled.