By Will Willimon:
Don’t you find it curious that the first word, the very first word
that Jesus speaks in agony on the cross, is “Father, forgive”? Such
blood, violence, injustice, crushed bone, and ripped sinew, the hands
nailed to the wood. With all the possible words of recrimination,
condemnation, and accusation, the first thing Jesus says is, “Father,
forgive.” Earlier he commanded us to forgive our enemies and to pray for
those who persecute us. We thought the meant that as a metaphor. (I
can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve uttered a really good
prayer for the souls of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.) On the
cross, Jesus dares to pray for his worst enemies, the main foes of his
good news, us.
How curious of Jesus to unite ignorance and forgiveness. I usually
think of ignorance as the enemy of forgiveness. I say, “Forgiveness is
fine—as long as the perpetrator first knows and then admits that what he
did was wrong.” First, sorrowful, knowledgeable repentance, then
secondary, gracious forgiveness. Right?
Yet here, from the cross, is preemptive forgiveness. We begin with
forgiveness. Jesus’ first word is forgiveness. It’s as if, when God the
Father began creating the world, the first word was not “Let there be
light” but rather “Let there be forgiveness.” There will be no new
world, no order out of chaos, no life from death, no new liaison between
us and God without forgiveness first. Forgiveness is the first step,
the bridge toward us that only God can build. The first word into our
darkness is, “Father, forgive.”
“Father, forgive,” must always be the first word between us and God,
because of our sin and because of God’s eternal quest to have us.
Forgiveness is what it costs God to be with people like us who, every
time God reaches out to us in love, beat God away.