Emulating Christ’s forgiveness
By Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M., The Christophers’ Board of Directors
Luke’s account of Christ’s Passion culminates in what might be the most astounding and transformative statement ever made. After enduring rejection by His own people, suffering ridicule and abuse by Roman soldiers, and being nailed to the cross to face a slow and agonizing death, Christ cried out to God, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
It was a most unexpected statement of divine mercy, delivered at the most unexpected time. It changed the world forever and continues to do so. There are two main takeaways from this moment that must invariably move us to action, the first being a realization of the nature of God’s mercy and what this means for our own salvation.
Consider who Christ was asking God to forgive. He was asking forgiveness for those who rejected Him. He was asking forgiveness for those who had beaten Him, for those who had driven nails into His hands and feet to murder Him. He was asking forgiveness for those involved in the power structure that put Him to death: the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate and the rulers of the Roman Empire. If God can forgive all those people for all those things, we must know in our hearts that we can be redeemed, regardless of the mistakes we’ve made.
And why, we might ask, would God send this message? Is it because He’s not offended by sin and wants us to know it doesn’t matter? We know that’s not the case from countless other statements by Christ, the Apostles and all the prophets. No, He sends this message because He knows that forgiveness is the only thing that frees us to change.
Transformation is what Christ wants for us. It’s what He won for us. He freed us to be able to change by saying He would not let our guilt and the negative mindset of self-hatred produced by guilt hold us back. And He did this because He wants us to walk in His footsteps in a bond of friendship that is more satisfying than anything the world could ever offer.
To act on this forgiveness, we must continually accept it. When we do that, we are walking in friendship with Christ and giving thanks in a profound way for His sacrifice on the cross.
But Christ’s forgiveness prompts a second takeaway: in walking with Christ, we are called to emulate Him and extend this same transformative forgiveness to others. Christ said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” These words reveal the challenge that lies at the heart of God’s forgiveness, because the ultimate gratitude we can show to God is to extend forgiveness to others. If we are to truly walk in Christ’s footsteps, we will raise our enemies up to God in prayer in the same way Christ raised His enemies up in prayer from the cross.
Consider the most challenging people you face in your day-to-day life and consider the people we hear about doing bad deeds in the world. We must always ask ourselves: are we raising these people up to God in prayer? Are we praying for our enemies? Christ said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He not only said it, but showed us what it looks like under the most challenging circumstances. It was a moment that changed the world, and we share that transformative experience with others each time we summon the courage to forgive.
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