by Carlos Rios
“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:33-34
As we continue through our Lenten journey, we have finally entered the “home stretch” of Holy Week. Our destination is no longer as far away as we remembered and we are filled with hope of the new life that awaits us in Easter. As I’m writing this, it is Monday of Holy Week and the joy of Palm Sunday—the hosannas, the palm fronds, the music, the excitement—is still fresh in my heart. But the story doesn’t end there, of course. Jesus rode into town and received a hero’s welcome, only to face ridicule and death on Good Friday.
As the week progressed, Jesus faced a betrayal, a sham trial, and execution amongst thieves. What a shocking turn of events over the course of a week! Yet in the midst of all of this, while Jesus was hanging on the cross, he utters the phrase above to forgive those who were ridiculing, condemning, and murdering him. I can only imagine the pain and difficulty that came along with that “breath prayer” that Jesus made on the cross: not just physical pain, but the emotional pain of betrayal, mockery, rejection, and abandonment. Yet in the midst of all of this, Christ forgives and asks God to forgive the crowds.
Forgiveness is a difficult process because it always involves someone being wronged. In forgiving you have to identify hurt, deal with hurt, release the hurt, and restore your relationship with the person that has caused you to hurt. Often we think it’s easier to just remain hurt or angry, but this allows bitterness to take root within our souls and chokes our hearts. It constricts our capacity to love.
It is through prayer that our hearts and minds become open to God’s restorative work within us. Jesus asked God to forgive the crowds in the midst of unspeakable hurt. Although our highs and lows are admittedly not as severe, in following Christ’s example we should also forgive one another.
This week I did a lot of praying and practiced a lot of forgiveness. For those who didn’t know, my car was stolen last Monday. Over the course of the week I prayed that my car would turn up in at least decent condition. I prayed for the people who stole my car, too. I simply couldn’t fathom how someone could be so bold as to even do something like that.
I prayed that God would forgive whoever was responsible for the theft of my vehicle. I asked that God would help ME to forgive and to not allow the situation to impact my ability to trust and to love. I found myself echoing Jesus’ sentiment that that God would forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Thankfully, Jesus’ story and my story both have happy endings. My car was recovered late Thursday night. On Friday I was able to retrieve my car and have new keys made and was blessed every step along the way: from our very own Jeff Rossen who gave me a ride from place to place, to the gracious people at the impound lot, to the patient people at the Honda dealer, I had miracles occur all the while. I can only attribute these blessings to God’s grace, the incredible thoughts and prayers of my friends and family, and my intentional prayer practice.
We may have reached the end of this journey, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s over. When Jesus rose from the tomb it was the beginning of something brand new. I can and will continue to focus on prayer and reflect on what I’ve learned in the wilderness. Let us all go forward together stronger from our journey and ready for the newness that only Christ can bring.