“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (The Gospel of Luke 23:34)
In “The Lord’s Prayer,” Christians beseech God daily to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How difficult, for any human being, is the second part of this petition, especially when the trespass is betrayal, when hurt turns so naturally into anger and perhaps even desire for revenge. On Good Friday of this Holy Week in Christianity, I will be compelled to gaze upon the Mystery of humility in the face of humiliation and the redemptive Grace of sacrificial love. Many Christians will speak of “Atonement” in the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for love of all humanity; I will meditate on the “at ONE ment” that I believe happens when persons of all faiths humble themselves before God in the midst of heinous crimes, horrid persecutions, and hideous curses, to pray through the heartbreaking agony that only God’s love can heal: “Father, forgive.”
Before I read your reflection, Grace, my mind wandered from the verse in Luke to events unfolding around the country. The words, “for they know not what they do,” while spoken genuinely and recorded in this passage, can seem like an attempt to excuse the many wrongs we commit. Claiming the consequences of our behavior to be unintended, we humans hurt each other in unforgiveable ways. I think that one reason human beings struggle with forgiveness is that we often hurt each other wittingly and willfully. While God’s forgiveness extends to our unintentional sins—because only God knows what true repentance lies within our hearts—our intentional trespasses against one another must be acknowledged, and we must reconcile with each other before we can find forgiveness. In Jewish tradition, we pray for God’s forgiveness on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we are “at one” with God. But we are only able to atone if we are already at one with each other.
Like Christians, Muslims seek God’s forgiveness for their faults and weaknesses every day, during and after prayer, and strive to reach a complete state of purification during the month of Ramadan and the period of the Hajj. A Muslim also seeks to emulate the example of the Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be upon Him], who embodied the teachings of the Quran. In the following verses, the Quran describes forgiveness as an honorable response to hurtful actions, while allowing for the uniqueness of people and recognizing that not every individual is actually capable of reaching this status:
“And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good]. And if there comes to you from Satan an evil suggestion, then seek refuge in God. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”(al Fussilat 41:34-36)
To me, although adopting this attitude of forgiveness can be challenging, it helps me focus on overcoming tests as a way of purifying my own heart and soul.