"Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. "

Nothing brings dignity to a love song more than the message of forgiveness. Jesus, knowing that nothing regenerates humankind more than forgiveness, prays His first word from the cross. "Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing."

Sisters and brothers, there were so many provocative situations surrounding the passion and death of Jesus which called for revenge and righteous anger. But this was not the language of Jesus; this was not the language of love. Then, how did Jesus respond to these situations and who were some of the people participating in this drama of Calvary. First of all Herod was there and he was treating Jesus like a house clown expecting Jesus to work miracles just to please his majesty. But Jesus looked at Herod with love. Then, the roman soldiers were there stripping Jesus not only of His garments but also of His dignity. But Jesus looked at them with tenderness. Naturally, the Jewish leaders were also there and they were laughing, laughing at Jesus' claim to Divine son ship. But Jesus looked at them with compassion. And of course the crowds were there and they were shouting, "If you are the chosen one of God, come down from that cross. You saved others. Save yourself." And Jesus looked at them with gentleness.

Every one of these people battered down the self-worth of Jesus and every one of these people questioned the purpose of Jesus' life and mission. Do they deserve forgiveness? Should they be offered the gift of salvation? Surely one could be tempted to deny these people forgiveness but not Jesus. He would never turn his back on those he loves. And so from the cross came the melody of boundless love, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. "

My friends, Jesus put no limits, no boundaries whatsoever on his loving, not in life and not in death. In the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus saying, "You have heard it said, love your friends and hate your enemies. But I say to you " Love your enemies." And then without any hesitation whatsoever Jesus continued to say, "Pray for those who persecute you." In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches forgiveness but in the Sermon of the cross Jesus lives forgiveness. Friends, could you imagine yourselves loving your enemies while they're cursing you, while they're lying about you, while they're persecuting you? This is a difficult challenge, isn't it? But this is the challenge of the cross. This is the challenge of boundless love and Jesus met this challenge and more for he forgave his enemies before, during and after the injury inflicted upon him. Is there greater love than this? Of course I know that in the human sphere forgiveness can be a very difficult and wrenching decision to love. It isn't easy to love in spite of injury but isn't this what forgiveness is all about? On the cross, Jesus teaches us that forgiveness is about life or death, about peace or bitterness. Which do you choose, my friends? Allow me now to illustrate this with a story.

Not to long ago a woman by the name of Mrs. Hanna just could not forgive the man who murdered her daughter no matter how hard she tried. She was steaming with anger because he was given life and not the death penalty. After months and months of nonforgiveness, love, which had once characterized her personality, had faded away and in its place, were bitterness, hatred, and resentment. Mrs. Hanna did not like this new woman but she did not know what to do or where to go.

And then one day while listening to Jesus' teaching on forgiveness, she decided to do something right then and there despite her feelings. She purchased a Bible, wrote a note of forgiveness on the first page, and then sent the book to the man who had murdered her daughter. When the prisoner saw the Bible, he just could not believe what Mrs. Hanna had done for prior to receiving her gift, he had all but despaired of God's mercy. In his return note, he thank Mrs. Hanna for the Bible but most of all, for her generous gift of forgiveness. Because of Mrs. Hanna, he now believed that God would forgive him too. O, the redemptive power of forgiveness! It changes both the forgiver and the forgiven.

And now, my friends, I ask; are you holding on to a past injury, a past hurt, a past resentment? Why are you allowing it to deny you of your inner peace, inner peace which can be yours if you would but forgive? O my friends, God loves you. He loves you far beyond your wildest imagining. Why not seek His love and His mercy? And why not pray as Jesus prayed? Good Friday is a perfect day for you and me to pray for our enemies. When you pray, you might find it healing to picture yourself in your mind's eye taking your enemy with you to Mt. Calvary. And there standing beneath the cross, look up at the face of Jesus, the face of one who knew and lived only love. And now, observe the open wound on the side of Jesus. It was from this wound that flowed the salvific stream of blood and water. Ask Jesus to send this saving stream into your heart and into the heart of your enemy to wash away your sinfulness and to heal your brokenness. Now, pray as Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive him; Father forgive her; father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." And if, my friends, you cannot pray this prayer, perhaps, you should pray, " Father, forgive me for I do not know what I am doing. "

Remember, friends. Sin cannot be undone. It can only be forgiven.

Jesus said, "If you forgive others, Jesus said, your Heavenly father will also forgive you. " And so, my friends, on the Mount Jesus taught forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus lived forgiveness. His words and his actions were in perfect, perfect harmony. O, what a love song! O, what a love song!

Sr. Geraldine Calabrese, MPF

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