Luke 23:34: “God, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
What don’t you know?
I’ve sometimes been asked to play a role in a larger project I don’t totally understand. Or I’ve asked other people to participate in a project I don’t fully explain. It always seems harmless enough: I ask my kids to hold our place in the grocery store line and say I’ll be right back, but I don’t tell them where I’m going. I ask a friend to loan me five dollars and promise to repay her the next day, but don’t say what I’m going to spend it on. Someone else asks me to read a paragraph out loud on cue, even though I haven’t heard the larger story, and don’t know how it all fits together. My kids say yes, my friend hands me the cash, I agree to read aloud, partly because those are trusted relationships. Partly because those are easy things to do. Partly because it might seem like more trouble than it’s worth to challenge or say no to what’s being asked.
Sometimes we say yes when we ought to challenge, or learn more about, what’s being asked of us. Sometimes we do things we wouldn’t if we understood more. Some things we’d never be a part of if we recognized the hurt they would cause. It’s like when my sons wrestle each other, always playing, laughing… at the beginning. These scenes often end with one of them hurt – not because one means to hurt the other, but because they get carried away, and don’t notice when the play becomes rough. If they knew that game would end in tears, they probably wouldn’t start it. But it’s hard to see that far ahead. Or like when someone tosses a piece of trash on the ground. It’s hard to see how something so small makes a difference. But then the wind picks up that trash, carries it far from where it was tossed, into the woods, or out to the ocean, where a curious creature crawls up to it or swims near it – and gets tangled up in it. The creature loses its ability to crawl or swim. The person who tossed the trash never intended for that to happen. But rarely can we know all that might unfold from our actions.
We just don’t understand, see, recognize. At times that’s because we don’t try very hard. At other times, it’s because we can’t fully know those consequences ahead of time. And sometimes, it’s because we’re just plain wrong about what we’re doing.
And Jesus knew this. He knew this even about the people who were part of his last moments, moments filled with pain, sorrow, and hurt. He knew they didn’t really understand what they were doing – that they were caught up in lies they didn’t recognize they’d been told, that they didn’t fully understand their actions. He also knew that if they challenged those instructions, they could be punished. They could lose their jobs. They could be outcast from their community. They were trapped like he was – and they might not have even known it.
And this wasn’t a moment where Jesus could teach like he often did when people were confused or didn’t understand. That wasn’t an option here. So he did the only other thing he could.
Jesus showed grace.
He offered mercy.
He spoke forgiveness.
Jesus knew that not even the choices people made in these moments could separate them from God’s love. He used some of his last words to tell them so. Perhaps Jesus suspected they would understand this moment differently, later. Don’t we, too, see things differently – sometimes more clearly – once they’re over rather than while they’re happening? It may even be that as soon as they heard him speak these words – about how much they didn’t understand – they began to understand a bit more.
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS
• Who has spoken words of grace, or forgiveness, to you?
• What are some of the kindest words you know?
• Can you share a story about a time you didn’t fully understand what you were doing – and it turned out well?
• Can you share a story about a time you didn’t fully understand what you were doing – and it didn’t turn out well?
• Imagine you’re talking with someone who has upset or angered or saddened you. If you think, ‘maybe they don’t know…,’ instead of ‘how could they have?…,’ what possibilities open up?
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