20 April 2020 – Father forgive them…

We have now had approximately five weeks of necessary restrictions on our liberties and nearly four of lock down. Sunday 15 March, the last time we were able to hold a service in our church building seems a long time ago.

I am sure that coping with these difficult circumstances is challenging for us all in different ways. We are aware in particular of the courage of the front-line workers who see at first hand the devastating impact this virus can have on some who contract it and the extent to which medical services are required to help other people come through to a recovery from it over a period of time.

However, I want us to reflect today on other pressures and struggles that can affect our sense of well-being and our ability to relate well to other people. For some individuals forced by this crisis to spend considerably more time on their own, there could at times be an acute sense of loneliness as family and friends are unable to visit due to the distances that separate them and those without internet access might feel cut off from much of what is going on at this time. Let us be sensitive to each other’s situations and from time to time make a point of phoning or making contact with others to check how they are getting on.

 In other cases family members may be spending considerably longer with each other at home than at any time previously. Home schooling and home working are great when it is possible to operate that way, but habits and lifestyle patterns that might irritate us a little, prior to lock down,might seem more glaring under the microscope of much closer interaction! 

For others, the stress of worry about their employment status going forward or for those of more senior years a fear of a lengthy lockdown might cause us to become more irritable than we might care to admit. Finding ways to be more patient and understanding of each other in our relationships is going to be important as we make our way through these next few weeks and months. 

 On the cross outside the city wall in Jerusalem Jesus made some statements in the hours before He died. One of the most remarkable and deeply challenging to us are the words recorded in Luke 23:34.

Let us read these words in context in Luke 23:32-34:  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 

The context is revealed in the wider passage of Luke 23:26-43 in which some people present contributed some ill-considered words to Jesus. These were words that would have hurt and wounded. How did Jesus respond at a time when He was enduring serious physical pain and anguish as well as the acute mental anguish of separation from the felt presence of His Father in heaven? 

1. The one addressed Father… There are times when we want to give someone ‘a piece of our mind’. This is a British expression that politely explains we are really angry and are seriously tempted to shout or use words or expressions that we may or may not regret later!

However, although we might feel better at the time saying it exactly how we feel – in the majority of cases we would have to admit that this is rarely the wisest course of action if we want to get a situation resolved satisfactorily. We can win an argument and lose a friend- which is not a ‘win’ at all but a sad loss for all concerned.

Jesus had every right to be angry at some of the comments made to Him, but notice how He responded. He brought it to God in prayer asking Him to take charge of the situation. In the situations where we feel the pressure mounting in the coming days, try and take a step back and after a deep breath take it to God our heaven Father in our prayers. If Jesus chose to pass on the responsibility for handling His concerns that day to God the Father then we would be wise to consider the same choice today in many situations we might face.

2. The request proposed forgive them… a natural human response when we have been wronged is to want revenge or to get even, or when in a calmer frame of mind to want to sort things out. The latter motivation is good, but it is the ‘how’ we do that matters! The proposal Jesus made in His prayer to the Father was probably shocking to many onlookers. He was a relationship builder. For us to seek to put ourselves in another’s shoes and understand where they are coming from does not mean we have to accept what they say or agree with the points made.

What is crucial here is our motivation for engaging with the other person. A person whose normal disposition is to seek to end disputes not inflame them will more often than not succeed in what they attempt to do. However, there are times when it takes extraordinary effort and self-control together with the grace of God to do something similar to what Jesus did here.   

3. The reason for the request for they do not know what they are doing Please note this is not ‘diminished responsibility’, the legal expression that might be used to allow a lesser sentence to be imposed on someone convicted of a crime because they were not deemed entirely responsible for their actions.  Jesus was not saying that the people who shouted hurtful things to Him were ignorant of the meaning of the words they used, nor of the significance of them in that particular context. However, He was rightly convinced that they did not grasp God’s perspective on this matter. They were too quick to judge and called it wrongly.

Let us be careful at times like this in how we respond to the words or actions of others. Remember we too might have misjudged someone! Jesus was on the cross to die in our place as the Saviour from our sin, but in His earthly life He modelled for us a way of life to follow. May God help us to live constructively, seeking to encourage others this week, identifying and acclaiming good practice, much more than criticising something we disapprove of. If Jesus could do it on the toughest day of His earthly life surely we can as well today. 

Our song for reflection today is Yet Not I But Through Christ In Me’

Brian Talbot